Tag Archives: storytelling

London, England


The Crucified Rabbit In Fishnet Stockings

By Rasp Thorne

“Naw mate, not like that, give it here, give it, this is the way to really do it…” a hand with chipped black-and-orange nails stickin’ out of white cutoff kid gloves intrudes my downward grading vision and snatches the tiny bottle of butyl nitrite crammed neath my nose and slams it down a bit too hard on the bar causing spittle-like droplets to fall, spread out and evaporate leaving little acetone craters on the scraped lacquered wood. The rush rises an’ swarms my head then drops with the warped motion of a speed-bump to heat infest my chest an’ pulse through my loins like a sadistic and unattainable wet dream. I clutch my hand between my legs and shudder, fucken poppers always make me horny, make ya wanna stick yer prick in any old hole and this is not the place to feel such things. I look up at James once the heat recedes and see him blowing on the Lucky Strike he’s just dipped into the bottle. He has a rubber pig snout on and is dressed only in a stained pale blue bonnet and as of yet not wet diaper. That and the kid gloves and a nookie on a piece of twine that hangs down to his stomach.

“This ‘ere is how ya do it. Snort!” He says, leaning in too close an’ shaking it in front of my face before grabbing a mini jack-o-lantern off the bar an’ lighting up from the tea candle inside. He heaves in sucken a good quarter of it down to a mean looking conic ember like a spear just pulled from a forge. He shoves it at me. I avert my head. It’s too fucken early for this shit and I’ve already got a half pint of Bells an’ a few ciders sloshing ‘round in my gut an’ I’m already forgetting the basics like why the fuck am I at this tranny bar an’ why is James here too an’ why the fuck when it’s eight thirty on Halloween are we the only ones in here besides the bartender?
Then it spikes me like Jesus.

“Where’s my fucken crucifix?” I blurt to Chloe or Joey or whoever it is who’s mini-skirted yet still wigless and is angrily smathering pale pink lipstick on in front of the bar mirror.

“Ya mean the one right in front of you?” he chirps back in the bitchy tone that beer gut stubbled trannies are wont to take. I ignore him and look ahead and sure enough right to the side of the register is my crucifix, stuck into polished purple rocks and bloated sea monkeys of a fluid-filled fishless goldfish bowl. There really is no merit for that bartender’s bitchy tone for I could of sat here the whole goddamn night and not have recognized the thing being that it’s been utterly transformed from a three and a half foot piece of rotted fencepost to the bead and lube and popper and g-string strung shrine now glistening before me.

“Get that fucken blond wig offa there. We all know Jesus was a brunette…” I grumble, slightly pissed off that I’d lent it to Stella Guru for her Mary Magdalene oil painting. God knows how it ended up here.

“Here you go Raspy,” Chloe or Joey purrs taking the last thong off of it and snapping it into the fruit fly hovered trash. “We’ve had all sorts of fun with it. Amanda just snatched it from behind the bar the other night and did this whole big performance piece off the cuff to that Lady Gaga song, you know the one that’s all Ra ra Na na na-a! Ra Ra Na na na na-a! of course she was totally brain-caned but really, when she’s on she is quite….”

I grab the crucifix and lug it over to my trash can and strap it onto the dolly with pound-store bungee cords.

“Hey James, man, I gotta go.”

“Where? Snort!!!” he snorts.

“Torture Garden.”

“Where, Mass Brixton?”

“Naw down by London Bridge I think, Essay-somethin’”

“SE-One,” Joey-Chloe sneers at me.

“Yeah, there. Give me a hand with this shit really quick?” I say wheeling the dolly towards the bottom of the stairs. He pulls his snout off and sucks down the rest of his popper soaked smoke and shuffles over to where I’m standing. I don’t bother saying goodbye to the bartender who’s too immersed making wide O’s with his mouth in the bar mirror to notice. We go up the stairs and set the dolly down on the pavement. A crowd of squealing teenage girls dressed like tacky fluorescent whores with pink and green tutus blast by us, their too high heels clacking the cracked pavement, their lips smacking loudly between interjected shrills. It is Halloween after all but a whole group of teenage whores?

“What are they sposed to be? The Neon Sluts of the East End?”

“It’s a hen party mate.”

“Don’t look like hens to me, maybe chickenheads. All right, I gotta get goin’’. Runnin’ late already”

“How ya getting there.”

“Q’s driving. We’re doing a walkaround thing together at TG an’ then I’m going to Barden’s to do  the staplegun thing ‘round midnight or 1 or so.”

“Might see you at Barden’s later. There a list?”

“Yeah but it’s Duncan’s night anyways so you’re fine. All right, later.” I say starting to drag the dolly away from the neon Moustache behind me.

“Later Rasp.” I hear over my shoulder followed by a booming rutting pig snort that makes me shudder inwardly and scratch the back of my neck.

I walk down Stoke Newington Highstreet past a plethora of drunks and kebab shops, a middle-aged man wobbling around with a half-filled pint glass an’ a baldcap stretched over his head, a cheap white T-shirt stretched over his paunch with scrawled writing from a black sharpie declaring: “JANE GOODY DIED FOR YOUR SINS”. He sees me blast by with my crucifix and blurts out at me to stop, I barge on as if I hadn’t heard him straight through the hens and past the smoking turks on the benches outside of the Queen of Lansdowne. I feel ill and not in the mood for any of this. I come up to Barden’s and it’s already starting to kick off, a line of skeletons in drainpipes are filing down the stairs. I hate those fucken stairs.

I swing a left before I hit the Rio and pull out my phone and call Q. I tell her to meet me in the street ‘cause we’re going to be late an’ I’m not going to drag my garbage can up the three floors to Wendy’s flat. I reach the house number and roll a cigarette, smoke waiting, looking at the clock on my phone every other drag or so. Four minutes pass and my thumb is on the send button to call her again when I hear something banging against the door and a slight whimper. The door creeks open and I’m met by the torso and head of an emaciated mannequin with rouge painted lips.

“Hey Raspy, how are you?” She chirps fresh faced and sober per usual. I stomp out my cigarette, I feel like vomiting.

“Doin’ good…great… Ya ready?”

“Yes   I    am. Just been playing with Bellona here.”

“Hey ya Bellona,” I quip to the mannequin torso being placed delicately into the trunk of the car. I throw the trash can and crucifix into the back seat and we get in the car and pull away.

“How’s the Misses?” she asks.

“Misses is good,” I say, “up north with the Ghosts.”

“O right, that makes sense, Halloween.”

“Yep, so ya know how to get to this place…” I ask her praying she does knowing that we’re running late.

“Sort of. It’s by London Bridge right?”

“I guess so. I have no idea. By Shunt or something.”

“Oh OK. What time are we on?”

“Well, we’re s’posed to be there by nine and get ready and be prepared to start walking around by ten or so.”

“What time is it now?”

“I don’t know, it’s uh, fuck man, it’s eight fifty. How long does it take to get there ya think?”

“O I don’t know… maybe half an hour… forty-five minutes? Will you roll me a fag please? There should be some blue Rizla’s in the pouch there…” she hums airily, floating on her own cloud, like a sun drenched California girl but with pasty skin and a slightly posh accent.

“Fuck. We shouldda left earlier.”

“Yeah… There’s filters in my purse here…”

“Fuck it,” I grunt. “We’ll be fine. We’ll make up some excuse. Are you pretty much ready to go once we’re there?”

“Not really. It takes me awhile to put Bellona on, and my makeup and wigs…”

“Ah fuck it,” I say, licking the glue on the paper before twisting it together and handing it to her.

“I’m gonna do my makeup right now. O shit! I got whiskey here too…”

It’s half past ten when we finally cut in front of the massive line of assorted fetishists and cybersluts, leashed tanned muscle heads and leggy formidable kinked out nurses. It doesn’t matter for a moment that it’s Halloween – everyone’s always dressed up here, you can’t even get in if you’re not pimped out to a T, which as of now, I’m not. I push my way through dragging my now squeaking dolly, Q is right behind me with her torso and bag. She’s never been here before and I see worry lines squiggling like thin worms throughout her face. The people in the line are complaining that we’re cutting in front, saying that we look like ‘wankers’ and whatnot, I ignore them scowling and barge on through. A short stocky bouncer with a cueball head grabs me hard on the shoulder and pushes me back a few steps.

“Where you think yer goin’ mate? Huh? Whats the hurry here? There’s a whole queue waiting…”

“I’m performing tonight” I jut in to his visible chagrin,“We’re performing and we’re running a bit late I just got to get in there quick and…”

He looks me up and down then at my face scrawled with choppily applied base and one shade of cheap greasy crimson lipstick smeared on my lips and cheeks and below my eyes.

“Hey mate I don’t care. You can’t just run into here like that. Ya gotta have some manners and patience. It’s all ‘bout the respect ‘innit?” he says with a cocky cockney accent shit smiling at me like he’s a big man. Fucken Napoleons. I take a breath and smile.

“Sorry mate. Sorry ‘bout that. Just in a bit of rush is all. My name is Rasp Thorne and this here is Q. We’re on the list. All right?”

He stands back like he’s taught me the lesson of the fucken century and me an’ Q rush in. We grab our wrist bands from the front-of-house girl who sees me in my street clothes and kindergarten make-up and checks with her friend to see if I’m really meant to be performing. Fucken fetish fascists. She sneeringly slides me the wristbands through the window. We grab our things and head towards security. It’s then I remember that I haven’t properly stashed the whiskey, it’s right near the top, right next to the blue plastic bag that the rabbit is wrapped in. Fuck.

I quickly tromp through the metal detector with my head down, trying to conceal the the dolly being pulled behind me. A huge security guard with bad aftershave and a cyborg earplug rushes up and says that he needs to search through the “bin.” I show him my performer’s wristband and tell him that I working, that I’m an art-eest, that I have to go right now. He won’t budge and he reaches down and starts trying to undo a bungee chord, I keep on trying to walk but he jerks it back angrily. Luckily Doreen sees me and rushes up and tells the security guard that it’s OK, that I’m working. He lets go and turns away tapping his cyborg ear and acting as if he just received a message from INTERPOL.

“Follow me,” she says tersely as she leads us through the sparse crowd of early comers back to the green room. “You’re late.”

“I know,” I say, sliding into my repertoire, “Sorry ‘bout that, the fucken traffic was terrible and I had to pick up my crucifix an’…” She walks us through a strobe lit corridor where there are three muscle bound men wearing butcher frocks and rubber pig masks, each one is standing behind his own little counter busily hacking up red meat with cleavers and hanging it onto meathooks. It smells awful. We reach the end and pass through the dungeon and cage room and more cyborg bored security guards until we’re finally led into the green room which is nothing more than a concrete storage space with a few mirrors and a ratty couch in it. There are kegs of beer lining the wall. An assorted gang of slashed stripper corpses and fully suited blow-up dolls with donut hole mouths are milling about.

“Here are your drink tickets,” she says handing me and Q exactly three each. “You’re performing out by the entrance of the cabaret room, straight back through the pig corridor, past the chapel and right there on the corner. There’s a little raised go-go stage. Just do walkaround for awhile and end up there. Two hours then you’re done. You’re supposed to be out there already, before it gets too crammed.”

“I know, I’m sorry, parking took forever an’ this fucken crucifix….”

She doesn’t waste the time to roll her eyes, just turns and rushes out muttering something into her walky-talky. Me and Q get changed quickly. I already have my fishnets on under my pants so I just pull on the silver sparkled g-string I got in Primark in Blackpool and lace up my brand new fetish boots thinking to myself: “don’t break these ones, don’t do it, the heels always fucken break, just take it easy.” With a shoestring I tie up my leather vest, attach the noose to the top of the crucifix and smear some more lipstick and eyeshadow onto my face. I strap the jawless goathead on top of my head so that the top row of teeth are just above my line of vision. There’s little dixie cups full of stage blood that the corpses are pouring all over their tits and cunts and thighs, I grab one and pour it down my chin and neck.

“You ready? We gotta get out there. She’s a bit pissed off.”

“Almost, would you do me up really quick?”

I go behind her and grab the strings that come off the mannequin torso and tie it tightly at the small of her back. She’s naked beneath it except for an apron that helps disguise the mannequin from her torso.

“Free blood,” I say holding a cup out to her. She dips her fingers into it cup and smears it under her eyes and across her mouth.

“Alright. Let’s do this shit and get outta here, I’ve got to get back to Dalston.”

I pull out the skinned rabbit I got from the butcher next to Off-Broadway and put it in the noose hanging off the crucifix. I snug the noose tight beneath its arms so they are spread outward with the head bobbing up and down. It’s mostly thawed out by now but it’s still a bit stiff and chilly. The butcher cut the floppy ears off so it looks remarkably like a cat, long, lean and muscly except with a pointed snout of sharp teeth at the end of its elongated head.

We head out into the growing crowd of awkwardly strutting sissyboys and SS clad men grave and chiseled with straight razor shorn faces, fully clad gimps jerked around on dog leads,  japanese dollies in breastless PVC catsuits, trojan warriors, asphyxiated ponies, a man in a bear suit with an enormous erection flopping about in the air. I always find it funny performing at Torture Garden, like I’m always there to out-freak the freaks which seems like it’d be hard to do especially in a ragtag outfit that I use for all my SPAR HORNET gigs which pales in comparison to what most of them are bound in but then again I do have a staplegun and a bad attitude, a skinned lynched rabbit on the end of my crucifix and a trash can full of nails, porn, a hammer and chains not to mention the poppers and a whole pint of whiskey just waiting to be picked up and played with…

By the time we leave two hours later the whiskey’s long gone, there’s a large goosebump on the right side of my head and you probably couldn’t tell from all the fake blood but my chest is bleeding and covered in tiny punctures. But at least my motherfucken heels didn’t break. Q is exhausted and doesn’t have the patience to even try to use the drink tickets. She doesn’t like it here an’ I can’t blame her, the club is swarmed, at capacity, and we couldn’t even take a break much less make it off our stage to walkaround. We just tromped and crawled around in our area, muckin’ about spitting whiskey an’ brimstone and posing in whatever tableau vivants came into our heads. I accidentally hit some top in the head with the lid of the trash can that I was swingin’ around on a chain but he was musclebound and tan in skimpy plastic bondage gear with a bunch of his butt boys and wanted to look tough so he just laughed at me and flexed his pecs like the Hulk and kept on walking by. Learnt that most freaks, even the hardcore ones, tend to turn into squirmin’ babies when confronted with a skinned creature. I saw some of them pointing at me while complaining to the producer of the club who always books me, but he doesn’t give a fuck. He loves it. I think.
I split the cash with Q and not wanting to wait to find the car or get lost driving back I decide to grab a cab from one of the dark eyed men who hang around the back alley ogling the smokers forced outside in their dungeon garb and lingerie. I tell the driver to: “take me to Barden’s Boudoir, Dalston Lane I think, Dalston Lane or Stoke Newington Road… What?….I don’ know man, fuck, you’re the driver, yeah, close to the butcher strip, yeah yeah over by the Rio but a lil’ further than that…” As he drove off from the club I could see him darting his eyes up to the rearview mirrors an’ looking at all of that finely clad pussy turning into blurry black dots behind him. When I’d approached the cab he was goggle eyed and grinning maniacally and didn’t even ask me where I was going until me and my trash can and crucifix were fully inside the cab. It was only when I told him where to go that he realized that I wasn’t a tipsy trashily clad woman but in fact a very drunken dude in stripper boots who was bleeding and coughing and in a terrible rush who keeps on yelling at him to change the radio station. Poor guy. I kinda feel for him, I’d prefer a sexy little damaged thing in the back of my car too, I decide to stop being so pushy and try to connect, I fish through my vest and find the little bottle of Liquid Gold and unscrew the cap and inhale deeply, I groan quietly and lean forward clutching myself again, after the rush subsides I feel nice and loose I look up and ask him his name. “Mohammed” he utters gruffly barely above his breath.

“Where’re ya from?”

“Pakistan.”

“Ahh Pak-i-stan! Cool! That’s grrrrr-eat! N-never been dere ‘fore myself. ‘Sit nice there? – Yeah? – Hot I bet, right, really fucken hot I fucken hate the heat myself I do, yeah, too much, ya know ‘Nahlins too fucken hot by June and when its July jus’ forget about it, yeah wait, is ‘at it, no, yeah it’s comin’ up, no n-n-not there yeah ya can stop yeah, right here, no, n-no right here yes, YES SIR! R-r-right behind that b-blue car there!” I say cramming a twenty pound note through the change slot. I’m owed a pound forty something back but he doesn’t even do me the courtesy of pretending to hand it back, he just pockets it and avoids looking at me as I open the door and struggle in my heels to pull the dolly out. I slam the door shut and drunkenly blow him a kiss.

“Hasta la pasta Mohammed!” I say and lurch into the street clipping the mirror of a swerving cab with one of the arms of the crucifix. I run across the road as fast as my heels will carry me not looking back to see if it stopped.

I get to the entrance of Barden’s and it’s swarmed outside with smoking hipsters garbed in various demonic and witchy array. I battle my way through them, leading with the goathead, my hasidic rockstar jacket hangs open like a robe flashing my glitter g-string. I get a few looks from the cooler-than-thous, this isn’t TG after all, but I’m way past the point of giving a fuck and I grunt and snarl and curse my way in. I reach the top of the stairs and start the descent, again pushing past the punters who are butt-to-nut on the left side waiting to get in allowing a small passage on the right for the smokers to get out. The bouncer, some massive Jamaican in a black suit, is already pissed at me for interrupting the flow of traffic and asks what I’m doing. I tell him I’m performing that I am an art-eest. He asks my name, I say Rasp Thorne he calls over to the drunken goth door girl who I vaguely know and yells: “You got Ralph Torn on dee list. Ralph Torn!”

She sees me and sloppily waves me in. I push past him and he grabs the dolly..

“What’s in dee bin!” he demands.

“O nothin’, nothin’ at all man, jus’ props an’ porno ya know…for dee show-” I mutter off-handedly, sick of it all an’ in need of a drink or wake up juice or a good slap in the face.

“Let me see! Open it up!” he yells, grabbing the dolly from me. I realize that there’s no whiskey left to left to hide.

“Go for it bro…” I say, smiling at the prospect of seeing his reaction. He pries the lid off and is met by a nasty beaver shot of a big-ass black bent over mama. He gazes at it vacantly at first then I see his eyes smolder over with rage. He glares up at me.

“What dee fuck is dis!”

“I thinks that’s a Lonely Housewife b-b-but could be a Assman lady, hard to t-tell without…”

He juts his hand deeper in and pulls up the blue plastic bag.

“What dis!” he yells with a dash of excitement mixed into his anger, creaming his pants as if he’s found some contraband.

“What you got here!”

He plunges his hand into it and pulls out the skinned rabbit which is now covered in glitter and whiskey and God knows what, his arms limp and broken, the tongue danglin’ between his bashed teeth.

“What dee fuck!” he yelps in a high tone, wincing and droppin’ it back into the trash can.

“Well, its a skinned r-r-rabbit, ya know, like dee Easter Bunny…”

“O there you are! Smashing! I d-didn’t think yer were g-gonna m-make it!” Orion shouts into my face.

“Here g-grab yer yer bin an’ put it backstage.”

I grab the lid and put it back on top of the “bin.” The bouncer is looking at his slimy hand and is shaking his head a little too slowly for me to dare say anything else to him.

“Let him be drunk boy, let him be,” I think to myself.

I go backstage and there’s some burlesque chick putting on titty-tape who looks up at me appalled that I should have the audacity to walk in on her.

“Hey, I’m Ralph,” I grin, leering at her. “Don’t worry, I’m an art-teest too.” I flash her my fishnet leg and boots, suddenly I’m gay and everything is fine. You might think I’m gay baby but you got no idea… I think to myself. I ditch the trash can and go back out to the bar which is way too busy, about three people deep. I push through and fish around in my pocket and give the bartender one of my drink tickets.

“What’s this for?” he asks.

“I don’t care, a cider or a pint of Kronenbourg.” I say.

“No, this isn’t good here, this is for…”

“It’s a fucken drink ticket! Jus’ give me whatever I don’ care. Give me a fucken Budvar or somethin, I don’t know.”

He gives it back to me and asks some guy standing next to me for his order. I’m about to get irate when Orion grabs me.

“Hey, you uh r-ready to go?” he says.

“What, right fucken now?”

“Yeah man, it’s t-time to go. Yer al-already l-late but it’s all right ‘cause everything is a b-bit late tonight.”

“They won’t take my fucken drink tickets here…”

“Wh-what drink tickets? I haven’t g-given ya any yet.”

“Then wh-what the fuck are these r-r-right here!” I say pulling out my drink tickets.

“Those are from, wh-what does it say, SE-One…”

“O. I see. That makes p-perfect sense now…” I say dropping the tickets to the floor.

“Are you all right,” Orion asks a tinge of skepticism intruding his already shaky voice, unsure if I can pull off a show.

“I’m fucken great,” I say and cough and clap my hands trying to invigorate myself, “Let’s do this shit man… Ya got any wake up juice on ya? C’mon, I know ya do…”

“Yeah, al-allright, let’s d-do it quick, yer on in two songs.”

“K.”

We wrestle through the crowd and go backstage. The burlesque chick is gluing on long eyelashes.

“Hey Orion and…”

“Ralph…” I say.

“Rasp,” Orion says.

“Yeah whatever. Let’s do it.” Orion pours out a decent sized little mound of whitish-yellowish coke. It doesn’t look like much but theres gotta be something in it for he’s already stuttering more than usual and he’s got the jaw jitters.

“There, do it all,” he says, handing me a cut off straw that looks like it’s from either KFC or Burger King. I do it all in a sniff. It stings like a bitch but does something. My head clears to a lesser fog and a song ends. The burlesque chick is either livid or terrified.

“You’re on after this next record. Did you give DJ Rizzo yer CD yet?”

Fuck. Did I bring it? Did I forget again? I shove my hand deep into the trash can and fish around through the assorted mess. I pull up nothing except a handful of porn and a sticky nail.

“Fuck!” I yell. Orion’s not happy.

“W-well, can ya d-do it to somethin’ else? Fuck man…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, d-don’ don’ worry, jus’ uh, p-p-put on a, ah don’ fucken, p-put on Lust for Life or R-r-r-rock an’ Roll Nigger or somethin’. Cramps works too,” I say, suddenly very awake from the blow and shock of not having my music.

“All right. Ar-are you r-ready?”

“Yep. Uh, jus’ p-put the trash can in the c-center of the s-stage for me.”

“You m-mean the bin?”

“No, not the bin, my fucken trash can….”

“All right.” he says and leaves with can.

Human Fly comes on and I know that doesn’t give me a helluva lot of time. I gaze up reluctantly into the mirror and I’m met by a rancid creature. Glitter and bruises, base and blood. Fuck it. Fuck it all.

“Are you OK Ralph.” Miss Tits asks me, condescendingly concerned in her showgirl sequins and sobriety. God she’s got a great ass, crimson garter-belt to boot.

“No. Ahm’ not. Ahm’ definitely not f-fucken OK.” I spit at her. Lust for Life thuds on and I hump the crucifix onto my shoulder and charge goathead first out of the dressing room through the crowd and hurl myself onto the stage.

As I limp (a heel broke) back into the green room about four or so minutes later I’ve got a painted lady stapled to each side of my chest and I can’t stop spitting and dry heaving. The rabbit had spun out of the noose into the crowd towards the end of the song when I’s swinging it around like a lasso and as I was taking my pseudo-bow on my knees someone threw it back at me and like a rabid dog playing catch I snatched it in mid-air with my teeth. I surprised myself with that one, it was like a feral instinct but as I left the stage with it still clenched in my teeth I thought of where it’d been that night and how it tasted and spit it out puking a bit in my mouth before swallowing it back down.

Miss Tits is still in there and she recoils at the sight of me and realizes that maybe she doesn’t need to actually apply a fifth layer of lipstick or re-dot her beauty marks, that it might be a better idea if she traded the precious calm of the green room for the horde of rowdy punters outside. She’s glancing at me through the mirror, darting her now elongated eyelashes down each time I meet them. I slump into a chair and start peeling away the porn and extracting the staples out of my chest, that’s the worst part, when they come out. The right side of my chest is fine and only trickling a few drops of blood but on the left breast over my tattoo I’ve got a mild gusher that isn’t quite clotting.

“Ya gotta b-baby wipe?” I ask her begrudgingly. She opens up a compartment in her makeup kit and hands me a pack of facial wipes.

“Thanks.” I say as I start dabbing.

“Why do you do that?” she says in very high and curt tone.

“Do what?”

“That!” she exclaims pointing to one of the pictures I peeled off which I notice for the first time is a Barely Legal girl with a cock crammed in her mouth, there’s a staple stuck through her lip and the shaft as if joining them together, a tiny circle of red surrounds it. It makes me a bit sick. I look up at the starlet and drop my attitude, lost for words.

“I donna. I r-r-really…don’t…know. I jus’ do it for some reason.” I grab the picture and crumple it up.

“What’s yer name anyways?” I ask her.

“Sasha.” she says and I detect a slight Russian or possibly Polish lilt for the first time.

“Miss Sasha Sashay.”

“Howdy. Nice to meet you. Thanks for the wipes.” I say. Orion comes in with my trash can and crucifix.

“Be-jaysus! That was fucken twisted! How’d that r-r-rabbit taste?” he says.

“G-great.” I say, retching again at the thought of it. “Can I g-get some fucken dr-drink tickets now? Ya have any vodka or whiskey b-back here that I can pour on m-m-my chest ya see it helps to d-disinfect…”

It’s past four when a motley pack of us stagger up the stairs of Barden’s and head across the street to where Orion lives. I realized in the dressing room that in my rush I’d left my normal clothes in the green room at Torture Garden and now I’m stuck in these fucken painful torn fishnets and ridiculous chintzy g-string. I’m sick of this shit. This fishnet thing has gotta stop, it’s not like I’m a fucken tranny anyways. I’m also, besides the tights, barefoot, the broken heel having proved too much to deal with after all. The idea is to drop my trash can off at Orion’s, see if he’s got any clothes I can borrow, do a line or two then jump in a cab and go to the lock-in at The Stags Head. We trudge all the way up his stairs, call a cab, cut up a few lines and the cab calls back directly and is already waiting for us downstairs before Orion gets a chance to look for some pants or boots that I can wear.

“Ah f-fuck it m-man, it’s Halloween, ya-you’ll be fine, ev’ryone’s dr-dressed up.”

“Yer na-na-na-not even fucken even dr-drressed up ya fucker, yer b-barely jus’ have yer fucken eyeliner shit on…”

“Well n-n-no, b-but everyone else is, so uh, l-let’s go…” He says gumming the bag we just finished.

“Jeshusfuckenchristtits…all right then, fuck it fuck it all let’s jus’ go let’s jus’…”

By the time the cab finally rolls up in front of The Stag’s Head I’m seeing triple despite the blow. I jump out of the cab and run up to the door which is locked and start pounding on it like a caveman. Orion whisper-shouts: “Sh-shut up Rasp! Ch-chill out, they’re coming!” as he gets out of the cab with his cellphone clutched to his ear. The door creeks open and there stands a skeletal Max peeping through the crack as if he is the guardian to some Dalston Black Mass. He checks that it’s just our little crew before opening it fully and letting us in. It’s completely dead silent inside, no music or voices, no bartender, but there’s a heavy haze of cigarette smoke saturating the air. The door shuts and is bolted then as a switch was flipped the music blasts on and a throng of people in various degrees of costume dress and undress appear out of the back room where they were hiding. We go the bar and a pint of cider is placed in front of me along with a huge shot of Jamesons. Shot glasses tink and the whiskey goes and I don’t know much anymore. It’s all just drunken snippets, the flashes, the terrors, The Pogues are playing and a girl shrieks out cigarette smoke which looks like her soul departing, I’m doing a jig on the bar and feel something neath my foot then I’m falling backward and there’s blackness before I’m pounding on a piano and being battered on the head by some sloppy bitch screaming in my ear to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”, long lines of coke on top of a sordid toilet lid and someone yelling at me to put the “FUCKEN CUE DOWN AN’ LEAVE IT!” more whiskey, the emergence of cigars, a red satin devil swinging on the pooltable light, another toilet, swirls, a bright bathtub, laughter, a tin of beer exploding foam, the contemplation of gravity and then there’s Shane McGowan again singing, screaming, blurting like a warthog curses and prayers into the darkness.I wake up on Orion’s couch with a large pot placed on the ground near my head. It’s still empty save for some dried linguini caked on the sides which probably means I had a good puking session before completely passing out. I miss my wife. Two more days. Goddamnit it all. The sun is white and hideous and the speakers are still pouring forth The Pogues. I feel remarkably clear in my head and can tell by my noxious exhales that I’m still drunk, my tongue is an evil thing, wretched and reeking and dry, it tastes of cigarette butts an’ that sickly sweet taste of vomit. I bolt up from the couch and go to the bathroom and squeeze a long line of Colgate into my mouth, cut it with a sip of water and sit down on the toilet, swishing, averting my eyes from the dirty kitty litter box to the mini stuffed rabbit perched on top of the medicine cabinet viciously peering down, as if judging me. I finish pissing and spit the toothpaste into the bowl, toe-tap the handle, watch the water spiral, my head following it’s movement like a springheaded doll. I go back out to the living room and start surveying the wreckage. There’s a gnawed upon donut stuck onto a devil’s horn on the wicker chair, a smeared vanity mirror with tongue lick traces running up and down and all around it, seven empty bottles of Teachers most with cigarettes staining the bottoms rusty black, a dozen or so red wine bottles, a few white, tins of beer and cider splattered all about and overflowing from the “bin”. The “bin”, the “bin”, that rings a bell, that means something…fuck.

I scramble back into the hall that leads to the bathroom and start looking around, franticly sifting through all the junk piled up for my trash can. I know I’d brought it up after Barden’s ‘cause I remember how much of a bitch it was getting it up the stairs but the question is did I bring it to The Stags Head? Why would I? I can’t see it. It aint there. It’s simply gone. Again. Again and again. All my props and makeup, my staplegun, my goathead- gone. This happens a lot and I’m fucken sick of it. I start to slip into the self-hatred slump telling myself I have to stop drinking so fucken much that I’m just wasting my fucken life pissing it away like I’ve done ever since I’s twelve. I go in the kitchen and fish through the mini-fridge for a hidden beer. Luckily I find one, well, a cider, Strongbow at that, stashed way in the back behind ginger beer and what looks like the remnants of a kebab. I crack it open and it must of awoken Orion for I can here shuffling and knocking about in his loft bed above me. He comes down his ladder, disheveled and groaning, still in his drainpipes and wife-beater. His eyes are squinting like little white pin dots lost in a nightmare of black grease paint and mascara. He sees me standing there dejected in the kitchen grasping the cider in my hand.

“Are there any more of those lying around?” he asks in a fragile voice while he straighten’s out his libertine mustache.

I just shake my head and take a deep swig and hand it to him. He doesn’t ask why I’m pissed off, probably can barely see me in the first place. I go back to the couch and turn up the music before turning it down quick because I hear a woman let out a shrill scream. I hear the front door slam and Rabbit, Orion’s roommate stomps into the kitchen.

“What the fuck is that doing out there! What the fuck is it!” she screams at Orion standing there with the can clutched in his hand. We look at her silently, both of us not ready for the wrath of Rabbit. She’s as hungover and ragged as we are dressed in the remnants of what I gather was a horny unicorn.

“Is that my last fucking Strongbow too!” she rages. Orion offers it to her but she doesn’t take it. He finally stutters out loud:

“W-what thing are you talking about? Where?”

She stomps out back towards the door and throws it open.

“This is what I’m fucking talking about! This fucking bin in the fucking hallway an’ whatever is fucking in it is fucking disgusting!”

I get up and we go out to the hallway and sure enough there it is, strapped to the dolly right in front of the door.

“Fuck yeah!” I say, “It’s still here!”

“What the fuck is in there Rasp!” Rabbit snarls.

“What?” I say stooping down and taking off the lid with a flourish. An acrid odor of rot an’ blood pours up outta the trash can and into my face and throughout the hall, I look down and there are already tiny maggots going to work on the eyes and extremities of the skinned and pulverized rabbit that’s laying there on top wrapped in the cunts and titties of whats left of the shredded porno mags.

“WHAT – IS – THAT!” she screams, recoiling from the stench. I slam the lid back onto it and close my eyes for a moment trying not to vomit again. My stomach settles and I secure the lid with a bungee chord before standing up and sheepishly looking at her.

“Well Rabbit, it’s a… it’s uh… a rabbit. I’s uh usin’ it last n in uh for a gig…” I try to contain the smile but I’m still drunk and I can’t and Orion laughs and turns away and I fall apart and the laughter echoes throughout the high stairwell. Rabbit blazes her eyes and turns from us and stomps back into the flat and slams her door. We go back inside unsuccessfully trying to stifle ourselves, leaving the trash can in the hallway. I go and quickly pull on my boots, the broken one is barely worth even putting on but I do anyways. I’m still in the awful fishnets and g-string but I’d rather just get out of here now then to ask Orion to find some dirty “trousers”, my hasidic jacket almost stretches to my boots anyways so ya can’t real see ‘em, just my shattered fetish boots. Orion is also stealthily pulling on layers of clothing and his jacket.

“Pub?” he asks as if it were actually a question.

“Yepper. Coach & Horses?”

“Naw, The Rochester. Two pounds a pint, can smoke in the back too.”

I grab the Strongbow that was left on the counter and drain it, wince. He pulls on his leather and we run out the door, me grabbing the trash can and humping it down the three flights of stairs. We get outside and the November air hit’s my legs and face like the wake up slap I was yearning for last night. As we trudge along the litter strewn pavement I can’t help but think I’ve forgotten something.  I know my clothes are at TG most likely never to be seen again but still something feels amiss. I’m racking my rent brain ’til I reach the bench outside the pub where I passed the fat Jane Goody lookalike.

“Fuck!” I scream, stopping in my tracks and staring down at the ground.

“What? W-what’s goin’ on now? C’mon, it’s fucken freezing man, let’s go.”

“Fuck it.” I say, resuming my limping gait. “What time does Barden’s open. I’ve gotta swing by and pick up my crucifix.”

Locations in London

The Moustache Bar
58 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7XB, United Kingdom

www.myspace.com/moustachebar

Barden’s Boudoir
38-44 Stoke Newington Road
N16 7XJ

-Now Closed-

Rio Cinema
107 Kingsland High Street
London E8 2PB, United Kingdom
020 7241 9410

www.riocinema.ndirect.co.uk

Shunt
20 Stainer Street
London SE1 9RL, United Kingdom

020 7378 7776
www.shunt.co.uk

SE-One
41-43 St. Thomas Street
London SE1 3QX, United Kingdom

-Now Closed-

Torture Garden
www.torturegarden.com

Off Broadway
63-65 Broadway Market
London E8 4PH, United Kingdom

020 7241 2786
www.offbroadway.org.uk

The Stag’s Head
55 Orsman Road
London N1 5RA, United Kingdom

Now Closed

The Coach & Horses
178 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 7JL, United Kingdom

020 7254 6697
Google Maps

The Rochester
145 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 0NY, United Kingdom

020 7249 6016
Google Maps


Paris, France

Two Tits and Six Hands

By Carrie Tee

Photos By Sarrah Danziger

If you don’t think Paris was made for love…maybe you can relate to a night like this.

When I “woke up” at seven o’clock Friday morning, I had a plan. From  the crazy hills of Montmartre, my ass needed to find itself in a seat at the Sorbonne, Latin Quarter, way across the city. Morning-sex had left me unsatisfied and even more exhausted than I already was. I stumbled down the steep cobblestone streets with the thought of Stam sleeping soundly, keeping me awake with jealousy. My partner, in addition to stealing the covers and pushing me off the bed, had a snoring problem, and I, in addition to not enjoying being cold, falling on the floor, or the sound of weed-whackers, had chronic insomnia. I’d stop short of calling us an ideal couple. It was going to be a long day. I knew it would start in a stuffy classroom, but thankfully the paltry air held no notion as to what corner of Paris the night would unravel.

View From Pompidou

 

Around the block of Stam’s flat are a few of Montmartre’s beloved charms and tourists traps: Moulin RougeSacré-Cœur, and that damned café from Amélie, Café des Deux Moulins. Luckily the sun was too low for the fanny-packers to be snapping photos. I wasn’t especially in the mood to shove past people blocking the sidewalks, fumbling with  cameras, and trying to unfold-maps and find what was right-side-up.

My class was around the corner from Shakespeare & Co, which Hemmingway, Pound, Fitzgerald and Joyce used to haunt. Every expat knows that “writers” can sleep for free between the book stacks upstairs. However, I bet the bed-bugs and swarms of tourists make this a little less than cozy. I decided to study between the classrooms and the bookstore in the wee garden that surrounds St. Julien le Pauvre Church. Amid flowers and hobos and in the shadow of Notre Dame’s spires, I tried my best to comprehend the agreement of French verb tenses in complex and hypothetical phrases. Snooze! I wanted to cover myself with Le Monde and doze off like one of the hobos.

After two hours of this pronoun and verb and si clause shit, I wanted to sleep. I really didn’t want to go back to Montmartre to see Stam, and we had no plans to hang anyway. I also really didn’t want to go back to my flat out in the suburbs.  But at least out in the suburbs, there would be no one wheezing in my ear. So I told Stam I needed to go home and sleep. He sounded annoyed and I will probably never know why or if he was or not…one of life’s great mysteries.

What can I tell you about Melun, where I live? Well, I don’t actually live in Melun. My village is such a tiny little thing that it’s not worth mentioning. Neither is Melun. But the area does have two of the most impressive chateaux around, Fontainebleau and Vaux le Vicomte(upon which Versailles is based), both worth visiting. There are also the Fontainebleau forests, famous for hiking and prostitution. But none of this makes taking the RER way out there very interesting.

The ride home seemed eternal and my nap was a failure. Internet trolling revealed that Turbo Fruits had a gig at Point Ephémère. A former construction depot, Point FMR was taken over by an artists collective and now houses art exhibitions, studio spaces, a big concert hall and a large patio that sprawls out onto Canal St. Martin. All the hip young things line that canal on summer nights like weeds, drinking in clusters until the wee hours. The option of cheap bodega beer along the water there isn’t a bad back up plan or after hours spot.

 

 

We found the Turbo Fruits show was free; now all we needed was a  little male company.

Sophie and I spent all afternoon loly-gagging, making ourselves pretty, casting a net out for options. Some guys we had met earlier in the week were down for a bit of fun. We had picked the fellows up in the splendidly dilapidated gardens of La Miroiterie, the oldest squat in Paris. The place is known for punk, hardcore, and noise shows, as well as its free store. That night, we had decided to splurge five big ones for a show, but the door ended up being pay-what-you-can. This was definitely a good thing considering that  Total Abuse, the band we went to see, had canceled and we had already climbed all the way up that damned hill with tallboys in hand. So we tossed a euro to the doorman for both of us and snuck around, checking out zines and records, enjoying what was essentially a big garden party. Shows there are played in a sweaty cement box, and seeing as the French hardcore bands had been nothing to write home about, we mostly stayed outside. There was a guy next to us that had been speaking in English on his phone. When he hung up, Sophie said, “Hey, where you from?” Cameron was from Austin and also there to see the canceled band. We bummed out together for a second, talked about the short he had just shopped-around at Cannes, and bullshitted about how cool Berlin is. He had seemed more interested in addressing Sophie, so I started talking to Cam’s buddies, Trevor and James, who had approached the three of us during our conversation with Cam. I had noticed Trevor out in the street before… and I certainly didn’t mind seeing him up close. The two Aussies were soon going from Paris to Milan. On bike. They looked like the type that would do that, the type that would be in a crusty spot in Paris questioning what they were doing in Paris. I told them they seemed unhappy and they raised their moping, little heads to look at each other.  It was the only time they had cracked a smile all night. They seemed really stressed, really tired, and really bored. They said they’d yet to have a decent time in this city. We exchanged numbers and I had hoped something would come up before they left. We decided we would all hook back up on Friday.

Now it was Friday, and Sophie gave Cameron a call. He was going to the Pop-in, a hipster dive full of Brits and smelly live shows. I called Trevor and James, but they had some dinner thing. We planned to meet them all sometime later, somewhere along the canal. The sun was going down when we finally left our flat, and Sophie was enchanted with the magic-hour sunlight over the green fields, the skies still bright blue and everything smelling of lavender. The big city was a short ride away, but we were worlds apart. Sophie and I missed our train and bought flasks of gin and whiskey in the corner shop to whittle away the 30 minute wait. Bullshit with Stam was stressing me out. He wouldn’t commit to meeting anywhere and just kept saying, “call when you get in and we’ll see.” Then he called and said he felt like going out right away, so he was seeing what his other friends were up to.

Charming.

 
La Miroiterie

 

We hopped off the metro at Jaures and talked about how the above-ground metro and all the highway overpasses are a bit reminiscent of Brooklyn. It’s probably a reason I like this area; it’s a bit industrial, a bit grimy, and doesn’t have any set style. It’s a mass of every taste and every ethnicity, and lots of cool graffiti. I love it, but I don’t love the boldness of guys in the area. They follow an offer to buy hash with an offer to fuck them, as though their shitty stashes were the hottest things going. The more romantically inclined fellas, nuance the deal with a proposition for a massage.

We trotted down the huge staircase and out of the metal turn-style, and I did feel for a second like we were hopping out in Bushwick, about to swing around the corner to the Market Hotel. Before I could really get caught in melancholic nostalgia, a brigade of yellow-shirted police officers and police vans came charging down the avenue in front of us. A stream of roller skaters started behind them. We took out our cameras and snapped the seemingly endless flow of skaters, gliding through the perfect early-summer night. All the trains and subway transfers we kept missing that night suddenly seemed like a blessing. Nothing is better than being perfectly on time for something totally unplanned.

 
We headed out to find a place to pee, having the good luck to pick a bar selling cans of cheep beer to take away, a brilliant idea in this convenience-store desert. We stocked up and went over to Point Ephémère. The terrace was overflowing as ever, the canal was teaming, and the Aussies called to say they were on the way.

I called Stam and told him where we were. He’d ended up drinking on the canal with a friend, and we were to meet up. He described where they were. I was a bit drunk and have no sense of orientation, anyway, so this wasn’t great. “What playground, what bridge?” I asked. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. Regardless, we had our biker friends on the way, so for the moment we waited along one of the main intersections. Sophie and I were continually harassed by people trying to sell us beer or drink our liquor, telling us how lovely we were or calling us bitches when we refused to give them a cigarette or let them take a puff…. Really, sorry herpes mouth, but that’s a no.

I saw James’ tie-dye shirt first, then the two of them slowing their bikes and scanning the crowds. I tried to get their attention and almost yelled the wrong name. In any case, Trevor what’s-his-face was looking way finer than I remembered. The cap and hoodie he had at the show were gone, showing off long messy locks and ripped arms. The tattoos and the mustache, tight black pants…it was hopeless. I might have tried harder to remember Stam, but after the ungodly sleepless night and him being weird about meeting up and being bitchy in general, well, it gave me too much room to reconsider. Did I need any room or was I already reconsidering?

I still had to figure out where the fuck Stam was. Did he just happen to come here, or come because I told him I was gonna come here? Did he even want to see me? Was he being a douche for the expressed purpose of being a douche?

At first it seemed harmless getting us all together this night, but it could have been the gin interpreting for my tired mind. The mention of “my guy” sent the biker dudes running off to get beers (a.k.a. have an emergency bro-chat). When they came back, they seemed a bit bummed and said they couldn’t stay long, that they had to get up early and all. Sophie and I had some girl-talk while they were gone, and I think everybody knew the score, which was that no one was going to score. I don’t remember a damn thing anybody said, I just remember Trevor’s accent and ridiculously sexy, puppy-eye combination rendering me senseless.

Point Ephémère

 

I called Stam again. We talked forever. Maybe a lot of it was my poor French, but I still couldn’t figure out where in the fuck they were. Then I thought I understood where they were. Sophie and I walked up steps, over a bridge, down more steps and found a dead-end that reeked of piss. I apparently had been very wrong. I asked some guys down piss-alley if they knew about this playground area that Stam had described, but no one had a clue.

One more angry talk with Stam, who knew exactly where we were. He knew I was struggling to understand what mystical little bridge they were located under that’s next to some imaginary playground, yet not once did he offer to just come find us. He opted instead to start shouting directions at me.

This made things slightly awkward. Obligingly the boys dragged their bikes as we tried to find “my guy”. Trevor knew I was pissed at my man. But nonetheless I was trying to find him. This situation is what the French call la lose. It’s a shitty situation in which everybody probably looses, but it remains kinda funny. This is more or less the description of my life.

Eventually the guys took off. As he left, Trevor said, “Will I see you again, if I come back to Paris?” along with the worst killer puppy-eyes and sweet tender hug. Neither of us wanted to say goodbye.

Now, Sophie wasn’t so keen on finding Stam: “Why the fuck couldn’t he just come get us, and why the fuck is he so mad at you when you’re trying to find him. And you went all the way to his place from the suburbs last night just to see him, and now he can’t even walk one minute to find you?” It was true. I went to class the day before, came home to rest and shower, went all the way back to Paris in a cracked out, tired state just to see my man. Then I didn’t sleep again because of him, and now I was exhausted and pissed. And for what? mediocre sex and a totally non-committal relationship? I could do better…but what is better, again?

I stared at Trevor’s number in my phone as Sophie went off and I listened, each second my stomach turning more with a strange cocktail of irritation, gin, beer and butterflies. The butterflies were winning and the liquid courage took hold. I dialed. “Hello?” his voice said: “I was expecting you.”

We miraculously got the last metro out of Jaures, miraculously caught our connection just in time, and made it to Hotel de Ville where the guys, not so miraculously, had agreed to wait for us. We were in Central Paris, where the Seine was polluted with a much different type of crowd: younger, maybe slightly less hip and over-excited when breaking bottles and creating a mess. Sophie talked about finding Cameron, who was across the river in this fancy cocktail bar. She added that I owed her one as we approached Hotel de Ville. I knew it.

We settled in once again along the water. The boys had found some wine, so we sipped as I sat knee to knee with Trevor. I felt the tension of the evening melting away at last. I kept trying to peer over to see if Sophie was okay, but she and James seemed to be having a lively conversation and I never even caught her gaze.

Hormones were preventing Trevor and me from saying anything terribly interesting, or at least I prefer to blame hormones. We were waiting for the big K-I-S-S and that was about it. Sophie later said that she saw our heads getting closer and then couldn’t see me anymore. Yes, I had disappeared into a dangerous state of blind teenage lust, aided by alcohol, spitefulness, and an accent. I often bag these fragile musician guys, but having this solid block of man to play with was incredibly sexy.  His kiss was a bit too eager, his embrace a bit too rough, but it was the distraction I neededif things were slow and gentle, I would think about what I was doing, which was having fun, and then I wouldn’t be having it anymore. Joy is so ephemeral for young foolish things.

Drinking along the Seine is one of my favorite past times. It’s free, interesting figures keep popping up, and no shitty song is ever going to come on and bring you down. The only problem is the lack of toilets. After shooting down Trevor’s idea for me to take a leak under the bridge (yeah, that’s a dude thing), we wandered back up the steps and around Ile-St-Louise in search of a toilet.

I’ve played this game before. Bars are closing, chairs are being stacked, workers are starting to illegally light up smokes inside as they clean. FUCK NO, you can’t use the bathroom. Everyone has just cleaned the bathroom. Sorry, but we’ve got bridges for that, Madame.

So we go down some side-streets to look for a quiet alley. The early hours are romantic in central Paristhe reflections on the river, the shadows and silhouettes, the whimsical street lamps, the dead streets. But it was less romantic hunting for a grimy alley in which to take a piss. There was a promising candidate, full of parked cars and crates, but no people. Trevor walked me a ways and, instead of using the privacy of the spot for the original objective, he pulled me in tight. He leaned against a van and had his arms around me, the same semi-desperate tongue pushing even stronger. His hands were down my pants and I regretted having left my purse down by the Seine, especially when he guided my hand down toward his open fly…I could work with that. No matter, he came ready, and reached in his pocket. As I heard the plastic tearing, I suddenly lost focus. Someone came down the street, and we had to cool it a second. It was one thing to have a condom in your bag, but really, in your front pocket? Wait, who is this guy again? I only got his name figured out this morning.

It was like waking up sober after falling asleep in a drunken stupor. It wasn’t my last night in Paris. I didn’t need to grab this night by the balls, pull the dawn down from the horizon. I don’t know what exactly happened, but the moment was lost. The wandering soul that passed by was like a rock skipping on a placid lake suddenly we saw the water rippling in front of us just before our boots got wet.

We went back. “Where were you guys?”“Looking for a place to piss.” Everyone was tired, everything was cool and soggy, and the metro was about to reopen. It was time to go home. The boys got on their bikes, and Sophie and I decided to walk to Gare de Lyon.

Over the river, the sun was beginning to flicker and suddenly the city had repented its dirty, lascivious ways and was back to its charming self, buttons redone, hair combed. The view of Bastille in the distance, back-lit by the lightening sky, began erasing my fatigue. We left at sunset and were headed home at sunriseeverything seemed to be in its right place. I was excited at the prospect of a hot shower and lying down in my little white room, way way out in the suburbs. The train would be quiet and we would be back safely in no time. But first, we would have to wait it out in the station, watching the times and towns shifting on the huge departure boards.

Gare de Lyon

 

Of course there are sketchy guys hanging around outside a train station at 5am. One bothered us for a cigarette. He kept telling us, “no problem, tranquil. Me, tranquil, no problem,” which is something all the fucking creepers say to the ladies, usually accentuated with “vous êtes vraiment charmante.”  Yes, so charming, in fact, that I wouldn’t be wasting an iota of that precious shit on your ass. BYE.

I really was dying of thirst and this guy said, “What you want?” We were standing by a vending machine and he pulled out a bunch of change. Thirst. All that was on my mind. He said, “I’ll get you whatever you want, but first, come take a picture with me.” To do anything in France, you must submit passport sized photos and, because of that, booths are all over the place. I have been asked by lots of tourists, mainly Japanese guys, to take a photo with them. It didn’t matter much to me at this pointI had no change and sure, a bottle of water for a picture, why not? Stranger things have happenedand what better way to top off the morning than some PG prostitution?

Sophie took off somewhere and we went in the booth.

The guy put me on his lap. Then he kept trying to get me closer to an uncomfortable area. “Just put the change in,” I said.  He fumbled with the coins, and then tried to pull my face close to his, fondled my breasts with a free hand. I somehow grabbed some of his coins and threw them in his face.

I found Sophie at the station’s café. It was just opening. The waiter said: “What, you want to use the toilet?”  I said, “No, no,” in a defeated voice. Then he turned friendly and said: “What do you need?” French people love this game…I said, “Just a glass of water.” As he went to fetch it, Mr. Fondles showed up with a bottle in his hand. At the same moment, the waiter came back with the glass. The creep made a motion to take it, the waiter seemed confused. I took the bottle of water, pointed to the waiter and said, “You give that glass back to him!” and took off. Water water, everywhere, and way too many creeps.

I had had it. Twenty-four hours ago, I was in bed with my man, a guy who more or less respected me as a human. A few hours ago, I was nearly getting busy in an alley way with a stranger. And now I had just been felt up by some cretin against my will. The day had digressed steadily…too many hands for two tiny tits. We’d seen the full spectrum from boyfriend figure, to random fling, to assault. The last instance was stupidity, but that’s what I get for not assuming every guy is a total piece of scum. The other two guys, well, that’s Paris, that’s me, that’s being twenty something.

“If you don’t think Paris was made for love, give Paris one more chance,” sang Jonathan Richman with the Modern Lovers. That’s one line that was in my head when we finally boarded the train home. The other comes from Naughty by Nature: “There ain’t no room for relationships, there’s just room to hit it”.  Somewhere between these two lines, between night and day, between the wicked city and noble countryside, on my tranquil train in a lonesome cubby, I was hiding.

And that’s how I like it. For now.

Locations in Paris

Moulin Rouge
82 Boulevard de Clichy
75018 Paris, France
01 53 09 82 82

www.moulinrouge.fr

Sacré-Cœur
35 Rue du Chevalier de La Barre
75018 Paris, France

01 53 41 89 00
www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com

Café des Deux Moulins
15 Rue Lepic
75018 Paris, France

01 42 54 90 50‎
Google Maps

Shakespeare and Company
37 Rue de la Bûcherie
75005 Paris, France

01 43 25 40 93
www.shakespeareandcompany.com

St. Julien le Pauvre Church
79 Rue Galande
75005 Paris, France

01 43 29 09 09
www.sjlpmelkites.org

Fontainebleau
Place du Général de Gaulle
77300 Fontainebleau, France

01 60 71 50 60
www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr

Vaux le Vicomte
Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
77950 Maincy, France‎

01 64 14 41 90‎
www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

Point Ephémère
Quai de Valmy
75010 Paris, France

01 40 34 02 48
www.pointephemere.org

La Miroiterie
88 rue de Ménilmontant
75020 Paris, France

Google Maps

Pop In
105 Rue Amelot
75011 Paris, France

01 48 05 56 11
www.popin.fr


Bands Featured

Turbo Fruits
www.myspace.com/turbofruits

Total Abuse
www.myspace.com/totalabuse


Cabaret Embassy (Casablanca, Morocco)

The Things They Never Knew

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

It was late for the hotel and everyone was asleep except the American couple who sat sharing shots of whiskey and anisee on their bed. The paint on their walls was chipping off and the florescent light-bulb overhead had no shade and was suspended from the ceiling only by the electric wires that powered it. The room had a small window at the far side of it that looked onto the terrace, which had no street view because rooms were built around it. To have any type of natural light in their room, one would have to open the door, and even then it was not direct. The American couple kept taking shot after shot from their small glass cups that were normally used by Moroccans for tea and coffee. Sam kept on the bottle of anisee, holding up her cup to the electric light as she poured in the water. And Richard held the bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cup in the other since he didn’t take much time between shots, unless he was ready for a cigarette. They were quiet for the most part, looking at the floor or the ugly wall ahead, and then Richard said:

“Do you want to go out tonight? It is your last night in Morocco and Casablanca is supposed to be a party town.”

“Is it supposed to be?” she said mockingly.

“Well, that’s what I hear. Plus you saw the gay couple romantically kissing and walking hand in hand at the Hassan Two Mosque today. That was a first in Morocco! The people must be less repressed here.”

“I mean, where exactly would you want to go?”

“You know as much as I do about this town. I don’t know, we’ll take out the motorcycle and see what we find.”

“The patron is going to hate us. She already told us the curfew is midnight.”

“That’s nothing ten dirham can’t fix.”

The motorcycle was silver and reflected the night sky wonderfully. Richard had bought it from a friend of his in Marrakech, and he planned to sell it before he left the country. It had fifteen hundred original miles on it which Sam and him had put on together, but after tomorrow how ever many more miles the bike would accumulate would be put on only by Richard. He pushed the bike to the middle of the plaza away from the entrance of the Hotel des Amis, kick-started it, and then said: “I love these women here! I told you that curfew was nothing a small bribe couldn’t change. To think, we’re only paying an equivalent of three-fifty each to stay here. The Western world has it all wrong, Sam. Whoever started charging eighty bucks for a hotel room a night in America was a fucking crook!”

Sam didn’t say anything.

As they drove through the winding alleys of the medina, Sam held on tight to Richard. It is possible that she did this because she was cold, but it was the look on her face which made one think she was doing this to savor her last feelings of love for this man. Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly parted with the faint hint of a smile, and she pressed her cheek warmly against his back. Sometimes Richard could have sworn that he heard her sigh, and at other times it seemed that she was rubbing herself against him. If she was he didn’t want to know, not because he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening but because he knew if he talked about it he would ruin the moment for her. So he continued to drive looking straight ahead, driving faster and faster as he felt her wriggling behind him. They were now outside of the medina going down the Atlantic Coast, and he tried not to pay attention to anything but the road. And when he finally heard her let out a subtle moan and loosen her grip, he slowed down the bike for the first time, turned around, and started toward Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and Boulevard Mohammed V, which was outside the medina. He didn’t know of any clubs there, but he had seen many flashing lights when they drove past ten minutes previous and thought it would be a good place to look.

They drove down Mohammed V and decided they would go to the first club they saw. Richard seemed to not only be physically drunk but mentally drunk as well. Any time he stopped at a red light, which only was when certain death seemed inevitable, he would rev his engine until the light turned green. And when it did he would kick his bike into first and speed away even faster than the crazy Moroccan drivers. Sam told him to slow down, but he couldn’t get a hold of himself. And when he saw the first club with flashing lights he swerved into oncoming traffic, squeezed between the moving cars and the parked ones, rode up onto the sidewalk, somehow managed to stop the bike smoothly, and then jumped off it with his keys in hand before Sam could even scream from fright. Sam did not seem impressed.

The club had a cover charge of fifty dirham, which is an equivalent to five Euros, and this seemed a bit pricey to the couple. “Do you mind if I go take a look?” asked Richard. The door man let him in and Sam stood outside looking at the sign above the doorman which read: CABARET EMBASSY. She thought this club was located in a strange place. It was right next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was also surprised by the fact that she hadn’t noticed it before, because it was right behind the Cafe de France, which is the most noticeable cafe outside the medina. But, of course, this club was always closed during the day and looked like a little hole-in-the-wall joint even now when it was open. The couple had walked by it many times and had never taken a second glance at it.

Richard came back and said, “This place is wild. We should go in.”

“I don’t really have fifty dirham to spend. I only have thirty now, and I’ll need it for food before I go to the airport tomorrow. I’ll walk home and see you when you get back.”

“No, you can’t do that. You’ll disturb the patron! Since it’s your last night I’ll pay for it. And really, the cover isn’t bad and plus it comes with a drink.”

They walked to the doorman and Richard handed him the hundred, and then the couple walked down the stairs into the basement, split apart a black, velvet curtain and heard a blast of electric sound. “Isn’t this great!” Sam looked over the crowd. Everybody had their arms up in the air dancing in a way she hadn’t seen before. There were women everywhere wearing short little dresses and smoking hookah with the men at their tables, and they were drinking beer too. This was the first time Sam had seen this kind of female behavior in Morocco, and she figured Richard must have been correct when he said people were less repressed in Casa. “What do you want to drink?”

Sam said, “A whiskey.”

“You go get a table and I’ll be right back.”

Richard found Sam over in the corner and laid a whiskey in front of her. She took a sip and said thank you. She looked over the scene again with a crooked kind of smile. Richard had taken note of what the other men were doing and started to dance the way they were. It seemed to be natural with the kind of music he was hearing. Sam started watching him and then snapped out of the trance she was in. “Those guys over there…” She pointed to the next table, “are New Yorkers. They introduced themselves to me when I sat down.”

Richard looked at the stage. Everybody seemed incredibly drunk to him. The men were getting on stage and dancing with the fat women singers with their arms in the air and shaking their bodies like worms. Richard thought they looked possessed. He didn’t know what was going on or what he was hearing, so he leaned over on the banquet toward the next table and started conversation.

Salam alaikum.”

“Alaikum salam,” Said one man from the group of five who sat closest to Richard.

“Hey, my girlfriend over here says you are from New York.”

“Yeah, we’ve all been living in New York for twenty years. Where’re you two from?”

“We’re from New York too. Bushwick area. Where you from?”

“Astoria.”

“Nice. Yeah, me and my friends like to go there. Play some backgammon, smoke some hookah. We actually almost lived in Astoria once.”

Sam chimed in: “We didn’t almost live there. Honestly this place was uninhabitable,” Sam said to the other man. “It was a basement in someone’s laundry room. It was a railroad apartment in a dungeon. We could see this beautiful backyard but the door was sealed with cement; and only the people upstairs could use it. It wasn’t fit for human beings! You’d have to pay me to live there.”

“Well, it was nine hundred a month for a two bedroom,” Richard said to the man. “I would have lived there.”

“Two bedroom?” said Sam scornfully. “One room was a hallway, and the other was a closet you couldn’t even stand up in.”

“Anyway, I would have lived there,” Richard reiterated. “How long are you in town for?”

“We’re going to stay for a couple months, visit the family, you know?”

“Cool, live it up for a bit, eh? Is this a club you come to often?”

“Naw, it’s our friend’s birthday.” He pointed to one in his group. He blew out some smoke from a hookah and then said, “you want some?”.

“Yeah,” said Richard.

“We like to come here for a couple months every year. Come back to the homeland. How long are you two staying for?”

“We’ve been in Morocco for a month. Sam is leaving tomorrow, but I’m here for a while longer. Say, what’s the name of this music?”

“It’s called Chaabi. It means popular, but It’s country and  mountain music.”

Sam hadn’t been listening to them. She was surveying the crowd again, and then some kind of greater understanding occurred and she pulled at Richard’s sleeve.

“What is it?”

“Ask him if these women are prostitutes. I keep seeing them go from table to table.”

“You think all of these women are prostitutes?” Richard looked around the room with a new pair of eyes. Why were they all wearing these trashy looking, sequin sparkling mini-dresses? Why had they all applied such heavy make-up? And yes, why were they jumping from table to table, talking to almost every man in the bar?

Richard leaned over toward the man. “Wait, are all these women prostitutes?”

The man didn’t even look around. “Yes, every woman who is in this club is a prostitute.”

“Really?”

Sam pulled Richard’s sleeve again. “Ask him how much they are.”

“Hey, man.” Richard handed him back the hookah. “How much are one of these girls?”

“Why, you want one?” He laughed.

“She wants to know.” And Richard looked over at Sam.

“Damn, you get down like that?”

“Naw, she’s just curious.”

“Well, for me they are about three hundred. For you, probably about six hundred, all night. They have different prices for foreigners.”

“All night, eh?” said Richard curiously. “Wait.” He leaned over to Sam. “He says they cost three hundred for him; six hundred for us.” Richard leaned back over to the man. “Wait, so this is a normal practice?”

“Yeah, all over the place.”

“Would you say all women who go to bars are prostitutes?”

“I wouldn’t say one hundred percent, but probably about eighty percent are.”

“Crazy! I never knew that.” He went back over to Sam. “He says all of these women are definitely prostitutes, and about eighty percent of all women in bars are prostitutes.”

The couple polished off their whiskeys. “Wow,” said Sam. She looked all around. “This is amazing.” On stage nothing had changed. The blue Christmas lights were still flashing , drunken men were still dancing, but the women singers seemed to have forgotten they were singing and were now just drinking beers on the side. Sam pulled out her camera and started filming.

The man saw what Sam was doing and leaned toward Richard. “What is she doing?”

“We’re journalists. We write for a website that covers cultural music. We want to get some footage for an article.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “These people have families and, you know, different identities in the day.”

“Don’t worry,” said Richard. “Our audience is predominantly American. Everybody’s identity will be protected.”

The man seemed not to like this response, but he sat back in his seat and continued to smoke his hookah. Some prostitute had the demon running through her and went on a rampage, hopping from man to man, swinging her head in circles like a rocker. Sam quickly started to film her when she attacked one drunken soul who sat near them. The man from Queens looked over at the couple with little respect as Sam filmed the woman.

Sam said, “I’m having such a great time, and now I have to leave Morocco. I’m sad. I wish I could stay.”

Richard looked at the scene around him, the prostitute hopping onto another man, the crowd drunk and falling on the floor, the man next to them giving the evil eye, and then Richard said, “Trust me, I think it’s better this way.”

Locations In Casablanca

Hôtel des Amis
12 Rue Markazia
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cabaret Embassy
2 Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cafe de France
Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps



Chicago, Illinois

These Are the Things We Have Always Been Doing

By John Thurgood

So, ten minutes into the bike ride, it starts raining. But really raining. And out of nowhere. Me and Julio, we’re in front of a psychiatric ward when it starts coming down, so we ride over to their metal awning for shelter, but the wind is really thrashing. The awning doesn’t do much to keep us dry, and the over-washed, button-up t-shirt I’m wearing isn’t doing much to cut the wind either.

Standing there, not sure how long this storm is going to last, we try to figure out what to do, when the door to the psych ward opens and a squirrely eyed janitor invites us in. He’s not wearing a uniform, and the only reason I assume he’s the janitor is because he’s holding a walkie-talkie. He leans his whole body into the weight of the door to hold it open. It’s a little weird that he doesn’t just step outside, like he can’t break the threshold or something.

“What about our bikes?” Julio asks.

“Sure, bring ’em in.”

He waves us in, and we follow, struggling to get our bikes through the heavy metal door.

The lobby is bright, and everything—the linoleum, the painted cinder walls, and the cheap ceiling panels—are a sterile white that makes the whole place look stiff and uncomfortable.

“You boys sure did pick a bad time to ride your bikes. You don’t check the weather reports?” The janitor stands with his arms crossed over his chest, a little righteous.

We mumble that we don’t, and I look around at the posters lining the lobby walls. They’re all white poster board with magic maker and glitter. The writing is squiggly and riddled with spelling errors.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“It’s a psychiatric ward for autistic children.” Then he goes into a long argument defending the need for long-term care for autistic children. I had heard about it on This American Life, so I understand where the guy is coming from, and resist the temptation to bring up the TAL episode—I don’t want to sound insensitive. And from the look on the guys face, it doesn’t seem like he gets this opportunity very often. So, I listen while he talks his job up, and glance around the lobby, somewhat disappointed that this scenario hadn’t turned into an H. P. Lovecraft novel but a learning experience, instead. I usually welcome both, equally.

Julio is the first to notice the rain letting up. The janitor is a little disappointed that we have to go. I’m not sure what he had planned, but I guess standing around shooting the shit is better than cleaning up vomit or whatever duties he was avoiding by standing down here talking with us.

Outside, the streets are glistening from the streetlights reflecting off the freshly wet asphalt and shallow puddles. There is still a slight drizzle, but we start riding anyway. We were headed to a show at the Empty Bottle when the rain started, and we are going to miss the first band for sure now—we were already a little late before we got caught up in the storm.

The Strange Boys are playing, a band that I don’t care too much about, but Julio is really into. They add a southern mojo hand to SF’s garage sound that, I guess, really does it for a few people. They’re pretty popular anyway, and I always see their records at Reckless but seem to pass them up for something else every time.

The cool thing about it raining is that when we get to the Bottle, we find a spot to lock-up right in front.

There’s a nice little restaurant next door to the Bottle called Bite Café. I guess it’s ran by the guys at Empty Bottle. But while we’re locking up, the singer from the Ponys comes out, looks around, then goes back inside.

“Hey, that was the dude from the Ponys,” Julio kind of laughs.

“Why didn’t you ask him about CB2?”

Julio works at Crate & Barrel’s sister company, CB2, which is basically a cheaper version of the former. They make dorm room furniture and weird knick-knacks. But, for the past few months, Julio has been trying to get bands to come into their warehouse to play a show. It’s kind of a great idea, but he’s had little luck with it so far.

“Yeah,” Julio says, shrugging, “I haven’t sent them an email about it, but I probably should.”

When we get inside, the first band is already off stage, and the crowd is well into its shift to the bar. Julio offers to buy first drinks, and ten minutes later, he comes back with Old Milwaukee.

The Empty Bottle has been around for a little less than ten years, and before that it was another venue with a different name and owner. But at one point it must have been a store front or someone’s apartment, because the layout of the place is somewhat unconventional. The entrance opens to what I assume was once a living room, where a pool table now sits and a table for merch. Two arcade games are in the corner. That room leads to a hall of disheveled brick with a Mrs. Pacman game and a few doorways to the main room with the stage and bar. It’s an interesting set-up, and they always have some type of whiskey and beer special for five bucks. So, music aside, I would go there anyway.

The next band to get on stage is White Fence, which is basically Tim Presley wiggling around with a guitar strapped to his chest. I kind of love it, and so does most everyone in the crowd. He looks like an unkempt businessman that at one point lost his way, and now croons about it.

At one point in the show someone yells out, “What kind of pants are those?”

Presley replies, “They’re Docker’s,” and somehow makes it sound sexy, which pretty much sums-up their whole performance.

White Fence plays their set, and two Old Milwaukees later, the Strange Boys take to the stage.

Julio makes his way up to the front before it gets too crowded, and I follow. While the band is getting ready we position ourselves in front of one of the microphones. I don’t normally like to stand right up front, but Julio is really into the band, so what the hell, I do it anyway.

Ryan Sambol steps up to the mic in front of us, and thanks White Fence and the band before them, then talks a little about his day while tuning his guitar. The crowd starts to fill-in. And then the band opens with “Poem Party.”

The Strange Boys are a little younger than Julio and I, and they’re all strapping young men. When Sambol sings, he takes on a sort of heavy, bedroom glare that I’m sure is meant for the teenage girls swarming the stage and not me and Julio. So, it’s a little weird that we’re standing directly in front of him.

Awkwardness aside, they play a great set, and afterward Julio and I step outside to enjoy an after-show cigarette. On the way out, Julio buys a White Fence cassette tape. It’s of a live show they did in LA. There are only 200 copies, a collectable, but I suspect he bought it only because it was recorded onto a cassette.

He’s holding the tape, looking it over as we walk to our bikes. He says something about the tape being cool, and I agree and take out a cigarette and light it.

He asks me for a cigarette, I give him one, plus my lighter, and we stand there for a while taking in the sweet, humid smell of a summer night in Chicago.

After a few drags, Sambol dashes out of the venue, chasing down the hot tamale guy.  When he walks back, he’s carrying a plastic sack of tamales in one hand and munching on one in the other. We wave him over.

Introductions all around. He no doubt recognizes us as the dudes swarming the stage and pins us as a pair of fanatics.

Sambol takes a bit of tamale, looks at a sliver of pepper dangling from the end and with a full mouth asks, “What do you think that is?”

“Pshh,” Julio says, “that’s not the real tamale guy. Those things are tiny.” He laughs.

“Hey, it’s food, though.” Sambol raises the bag of tamales. “And right now they taste just like I want them to.”

We compliment him on the show and his mild success, and he tells us a little about the tour so far, then Julio breeches the CB2 topic. Julio had emailed someone in the band about it, but judging by the look on Sambol’s face, it was not him.

“Yeah, they said there just wasn’t enough time this time,” Julio says. “But next time you should; for sure, you should definitely stop in.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. We’re playing a show in Milwaukee tomorrow night.” Sambol takes out another tamale. “It sounds fun, though. What is it again? A radio station?”

Julio laughs. “No man, it’s a studio, an artist’s studio for CB2.”

Julio walks around a clear explanation of what CB2 actually is, and Sambol munches on his tamale, obviously confused but willing to listen, probably still thinking we’re fanatics.

Finally, I cut Julio off, and plainly state that CB2 is the sister company of Crate & Barrel. They make dorm room furniture and knick knacks.

Sambol smiles. “So wait a minute. You want us to play at the store?”

“No,” Julio says, “at the studio.”

“You’d be playing for the office, kind of,” I add.

There is an awkward pause.

“Whoa, I thought you guys were a radio station. Whoa, that’s kind of weird.”

“But it’s an interesting space,” Julio adds.

Sambol takes another bit of tamale. “And you guys will be recording this?”

“Sure. We can record it. Maybe arrange something with the corporate office. You guys could be sponsors or something. I’ve been talking to other bands about it. Thee Oh Sees and Sandwiches. I think Sandwiches might do it.”

Sambol thinks it over.

A girl runs over with an album. I see her at shows all the time. When King Khan played she jumped up on stage and made out with him, then did it again, like seven more times. It got weird. Her album has signatures all over it from the rest of the band, and she asks Sambol to sign it.

After he signs, he turns back to us, and after a second says, “Man, that’s a hard sell.”

Apparently it is, so Julio drops the subject, and we talk about Austin for a while, because The Strange Boys are living there right now. Then Sambol heads back into the Bottle, and we unlock our bikes and head over to Estelle’s for burgers and a beer.

Estelle’s is right on the corner of North and Damen, where the two streets cross Milwaukee, The Six Corners. It’s the busiest intersection in Wicker Park, and one of the busiest in the whole city.

I’ve been told by a few people that ten years ago Wicker Park was a rough part of town. There’s a scene from an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie called Red Heat that shows The Six Corners before all the condos and martini bars went in. It was pretty bleak. I interviewed Ron Seymour of Ron Seymour Photography for a project once. His studio has been on that corner since ’88, and he said when he first moved in, he couldn’t walk outside after six. You just didn’t do it. Two friends of his were mugged and killed. One was stabbed and the other was beaten to death. Now, there’s an American Appearal just down from his studio, the first one to open in the Midwest. It stays open until nine. There’s also a Levi’s store, an Urban Outfitters, and a slew of music venues and bars. It basically Chicago’s version of an outdoor mall, and normally I would never go over to that part of town, but Estelle’s is the only place to get a decent burger and a beer past one a.m., so Julio and I lock our bikes up on some scaffolding across the street and go inside and sit at the bar.

My friend Chiara texted me while we were at the show, so I text her back. She’s at Pancho’s in Logan Square. Some friends of hers are in town from Baltimore, and they’re playing a show. She texts back that the show is over, and she’ll meet us at Estelle’s.

The burgers here are probably shipped frozen, but the buns they use are pretty good and the veggies are fresh, and they usually have a good IPA in a can for three or four bucks.

Me and Julio order. Harold and Maude is playing on the TV behind the bar, so we watch that for a while. Julio has never seen it, so I try to explain why the kid is running around with an old lady, but I realize I don’t know what I’m talking about so I just say it’s a good movie and that he should check it out.

It’s a weekday so Estelle’s isn’t all that crowded. There is a group of accountants standing at the bar just down from us, and behind us in a booth is a middle-aged guy with what is most likely a hooker. The rest of the bar is modestly filled with similar folks, bottle-necking as it gets closer to the door.

Chiara shows up while we’re halfway through our burgers, and joins us at the bar. We work together at Nightwood in Pilsen, so we talk about that for a while. Julio is clearly uninterested, and watches the movie.

Chiara moved to Chicago to do a post-back in visual art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her work uses a lot of fabric and three-dimensional shapes. She’s really into embroidery. She also has a bunch of funny tattoos that she refuses to fill-in, like a bandaid and a polar bear among others. They’re all outlines, so it basically looks like she screenprinted her arm with cookie cutters.

We finish eating and decide to head over to the lakefront. Outside, the streets are crowded with lingerers, even though the two a.m. bars let out a half hour ago. Most of them are clutching phones to the sides of their heads, trying to get a hold of something better than just going home, I guess. Taxis are swarming The Six Corners, too. This is their golden hour.  And above everyone’s head, the L clatters up to the Damen stop.

We take North Avenue over to the lake, which we quickly realize is a mistake. North lacks bike lanes, and hasn’t been re-tarred since the fires, or so it seems. The traffic sucks, too, and I almost get hit by a taxis that pulls out in front of me.

We take the North Avenue tunnel under Lake Shore Drive, and ride over to the cement docks. A few kids are swimming off the dock down by the Chess Pavilion, and the water looks really inviting, especially after that bike ride down North. Chiara is clearly thinking about it. Julio is starring off at the John Hancock Building and the wave of skyscrapers looming just a few blocks south. This is a weird part of Chicago, where the lake meets the city. There are two beaches on either side of the docks and up north past the pavilion, Lincoln Park sprawls outward into a grassy preserve.

Swimming off the dock is something I would have done regularly if I had grown up in Chicago—in my underwear, naked, whatever. But now it just seems cheesy. To jump in now would only be forcing a sense of adventure, and I see the same lackluster resignation on the faces of Chiara and Julio.

I ask if they want to jump in anyway. Chiara smiles and nods, and Julio picks up his bike.

“I think I’m gonna head back and drink a few beers,” Julio says.

I try to get him to stay, but he won’t have it, so he takes off and me and Chiara strip down to our skivvies and jump into the frigid depths of Lake Michigan.

The water is dark, and I can’t tell how deep it is. Looking outward, it seems endless, like the ocean, and I start to wonder if there are any Buick-sized catfish or equally large crawdads lurking down by my feet, waiting to pull under an early morning swimmer.

The cold water feels great, and me and Chiara make-out a little as we tread around.

There’s a yellow ladder up the side of the dock, and we use it to climb out. We jump in a few more times, then get dressed. As we gather some sort of plan, a K-9 unit drives by on the bike path. Five minutes earlier, they would have given us tickets or told us to leave. Good timing, I guess.

We head down the bike path and take the tunnel over to Michigan Avenue. There is something strange about swimming in one of great North America lakes, then, right after, riding down the six lane thoroughfare of Chicago’s busiest shopping district. Like I said, it’s a weird part of Chicago.

We ride down to Chiara’s. She lives in Bridgeport, and once we get through downtown we cross over to State Street, take Archer through Chinatown and then end up in her neighborhood. It’s a nice ride, and the streets are empty.

We stash our bikes in Chiara’s basement, and head up to her roof. Some friends of hers gave her a few home brews, so we take a bottle each up with us. The beers turn out to be terrible, but we drink them anyway, and spend the rest of the night up there looking out over the pitched roofs of residential south Chicago, talking and doing whatever until the sun pops up in the east.

Locations in Chicago

Empty Bottle
1035 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
(773) 276-3600
emptybottle.com

Bite Cafe
1039 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
(773) 395-2483
bitecafechicago.com

Reckless Records
26 N. Broadway
Chicago, Illinois 60657
(773) 404-5080
reckless.com

Estelle’s
2013 W. North Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647
(773) 782-0450
estelleschicago.com

Ronald Seymour Inc.
1625 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647
(773) 235-0161
ronseymour.com

Pancho’s
2202 N. California Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60647
(773) 384-1865
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Nightwood
2119 S. Halsted Street
Chicago, Illinois 60608
(312) 526-3385
nightwoodrestaurant.com



Athens, Greece

Because You Asked Why I came

By Bobby Damore

I met her at the club where she dj’d, a place called the Key Bar. She had some friends with her and I met all of them there. They were nice people. The man in the group insisted that he and I only speak in Greek. I managed to do so only slowly, while Anastasia implored us to give it up. A short girl with an aquiline nose, a thick mess of black hair, and a hipster’s fashion and music sensibilities, she and I attempted sex the night we met, but she had gotten me too drunk and I couldn’t get it up with the condom and all. On this night I was hoping for round two, a second chance, not because I really wanted to have sex with her, but so I could redeem myself and make it so that calling what we did “sex” more accurate. She’s a busy girl, some sort of well-known journalist. Well-known for what, she didn’t tell me.

I hated the bar we were in. Too modern. More to the point, it was too loud and I coudln’t hear anyone talking. Why do they have to turn up the stereo so loud? A few of her friends left, and I saw my opportunity for the three of us to do the same. I suggested we go to a place called Rebetiki Istoria, a bar/cafe where they have live Rebetika music. Rebetika is the blues music of Greece. It’s golden age was the 1920s to the 1950s. Everybody in Greece loves Rebetika, and so they naturally obliged.

It was a long walk from Psyrri to Exarcheia, but we had much to talk about. Anastasia was interested in why I would want to be in Greece, not just because of the economy crumbling but in general. In her mind, Greece was just about the last place anyone would want to live and she regretted passing up her own opportunity to leave it. Her questions were not merely inquisitive; they had an edge to them, a sharp edge that cut me and got my attention. Her questions were imploring and critical – I at once felt an urge to answer her genuinely and an urge to curse her for her insolence. I told her many times already that I was here following my musical dreams, but whereas this would be enough for your average person, even if they didn’t think it was worth it, it wasn’t enough for her. This was her opportunity to proclaim to an outsider all of her grievances against her mother country, the place that nurtured her growth and betrayed her trust. The place that built in her a sense that maybe Greece could be a respectable country finally, and then used that same sense to beat her in the face. Perhaps there was also a humanitarian bent to her screaming. Maybe she was actually worried that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Certainly, I didn’t know everything before coming, but I knew it would be hard and that’s really the most important thing I needed to know. I mostly brushed her off, figuring that her business as a journalist would turn anybody into a void of negativity. Every one of Anastasia’s friends was more understanding of why I came and what I was doing even if they agreed with Anastasia’s criticisms of Greece, but she was out to prove to me that I had made a mistake.

Her friend asked me what I thought of the air in Athens. I remarked that I thought it had improved since eight years ago, because I remembered the mucus in my nose turning black and this time around that wasn’t happening. He said that his job was to study the air quality in Athens and that it may actually be worse, since if you can see the pollution in your nose, then that means it’s big enough to be filtered. But if you can’t, then it may actually be entering your lungs.

All well and good, I already knew that Athens was a smoke choked city halfway on fire with anarchists, heroin addicts, and mobster politicians. In fact, that’s the only environment where Rebetika truly made any sense and I very simply was on a mission to become a part of the music I was in love with.

We arrived at the club very early, 9pm, and it was empty. Not even the band had shown up. It was only the waitress. The place was very pretty from the outside. It was an old building, blue and in an ornate, neo-classical style, which isn’t very common in Athens anymore but a little more common in Exarcheia. There is one wooden sign next to the door which says “Rebetiki Istoria” but other than that there is no trace of the existence of good times, drinking, dancing, music, or smoking within. If the police still cared to shut down places like this, they could very easily walk right by it and not see it. Within, the walls were old and stained, but continued in this ornate style, as if there would be a meeting of dignitaries or holy men, only they’d have to be from hell or something. Pictures and paintings covered the walls. Paintings depicting scenes from Rebetika songs. A man in a suit walks in on another man sleeping in his bed and takes out his pistol. His mother and his wife, presumably, try to stop him by giving him alcohol. Other pictures have guys in suits partying in hell, or partying in some tavern, or smoking on a mountain, or smoking with lots of girls, or smoking in hell. One painting depicts the Nazi Occupation. Another depicts the lost Greek homelands of Asia Minor, where my grandfather was born and where many of these musicians were from. The photos were old pictures of all the greats and all the legends of old times. All the people who basically created modern Greek music, enshrined in their own personal club, where the songs they wrote would continue to be deified by ever new generations of venerators and imitators. There were no windows. The club was obviously formerly an abode, since there were rooms that had the doors taken off to open up the space. Many small tables were crammed next to each other. The place had the smell of constant smoke, as if it would always smell like a club. Indeed, this felt like the place I was looking for.

We sat in a corner and I changed the subject. We went back into trying to teach me Greek by only speaking Greek. I forget what we were talking about. They asked me to play my bouzouki before the band showed up and so I did. I played songs until customers began to arrive and then the guy with us decided to leave. They were thoroughly impressed, not only that someone from Texas could be so interested in the music, but that they’d be so good at playing it. The waitress had overheard me playing and told the band about me after they showed up. I was called into the back room to meet them, with Anastasia giving me a not so gentle push to go and meet my dreams. Of course, there was no way of knowing if I was going to meet my dreams.

The band consisted of lively characters, casually dressed in modern attire, subdued dark colors, jeans, ribbed, tight shirts, gruff and full of cigarettes and booze. They smiled the smile of pranksters, tricksters. Someone had already taught me the word psonyara, which means a person who thinks they’re much better than they actually are. They had the smile of a psonyara, someone with attitude, people who think they’re hot shit. They looked upon me with a kind of tired, over it, been there look and quickly brushed me off – if they even noticed me. The head of the band, also the owner of the club, beckoned me to come.

In Greek:

“Give me your bouzouki!”

“No!”

(laughter)

“I’ll play you a song first.”

(laughter)

“No, first you give us your bouzouki!”

I pulled out my bouzouki to start playing and the lead bouzoukist in the band reached over and snatched it from me. Everyone in the group hunched over it inspecting every last inch. They poked, prodded, placed ears over things, plucked and pulled and played a few notes.

“It’s crap,” said the lead.

“Let him play and then we’ll see,” replied the owner. “Play us your best song.”

I took a seat and played a song called “Markos the Jack-of-All-Trades”, a song where a man and a woman are arguing. She acuses him of evading his marriage vows because he’s been chasing other women. He claims he’s been too busy working all these jobs this whole time to be able to find the time to marry her. It’s the song I know the best because it was the first Rebetika song I ever learned. I used to get stoned and listen to the 78 rpm recording over and over because of it’s hypnotic, pulsing rhythm and the way the singers sound like they’re dogs barking ready to pounce, but somehow eloquently, like nobility. I escaped into the world of the song, performed the opening melody and began to sing the first line.

“Okay that’s enough. Stop now.”

“Huh?”

“Stop playing. You’re good. You’re very good. Come tomorrow evening between 9 and 9:30 to perform with us, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Nice to meet you. We have to go on stage now.”

The “stage” was just a space cut into the wall in the next room. It had the effect of bringing the experience right to your table since they were on the same leve as everyone else. I appreciated this set-up, since you could clearly participate with the performers as they played. The next day would be my first public performance in Greece. I returned to my table and told Anastasia what happened. She became very excited for me. The band took their seats and she and I began to make out hard and solid for what seemed like ten minutes or so. This was definitely a high point in the life of any musician anywhere, to get the job and get the girl in the same night. Her lips tasted like victory, or white wine. I’m not sure since I was too drunk at this point. I don’t see the difference between victory and wine anyway.

The place was full, packed. The music was not loud, but the people were. It was very lively. The crowd was mostly young, with some people of all ages filling in the rest. There was a group of people who moved from England to some island back in the 60s to start their own school for the islanders who didn’t have one. They professed their love of Greece and Greek music when Anastasia predictably questioned their motives for deciding to live in Greece. They gestured to the lively and boisterous crowd, getting hammered and joyously yelling, singing and dancing all over the place as their reason for staying. Anastasia admitted that having fun is the one thing Greek people tend to be good at. In fact, it was the reason why she didn’t take the job offer in New York, because she knew this doesn’t exist in America. Songs about crime and living as a bohemian, with intricate melodies, stirring poetry, dark themes, high passion, driving rhythms that shake your bones; Rebetika is the siren call of Greece, if I may use a gratuitously overused Greek metaphor. In this case, it may be true though. The music I love has brought me to a Greece teetering on financial and economic ruin, a Greece on it’s way down after so many years on it’s way up. I really had no way of knowing if I was jumping into my dreams or into my ruin. The bouzouki, sqeaking it’s woody, spring loaded twang, distracted me from any thoughts of utter ruin. I had a strange sense of being at home, like everyone here could be my best friend for the night if I simply spoke with them.

Before we left, she reminded me of how evil and terrible Greek people are, that I should be careful of these people who have invited me into their band. She said they will do terrible, horrible things to me. I told her that all artists are terrible people and that she should fucking relax for god’s sake.

I walked her home. The air was cool and we were both ripped. It was a long walk that took us by a large park. We had lots of time to talk about “us” and what “we” were as a couple. She told me that her boyfriend of many years had recently dumped her because, apparently, he thinks she’s too negative. “Hmm, how could he have gotten that idea?” She told me to lay down the rules for her. She asked me, “What are the rules, so that I don’t hurt you?” I should have told her not to ask such ridiculous questions because I’d lay down some rules if I had to. Instead, I told her not to do the exact thing that I knew she was going to do. “Don’t tell me you like me and want to be with me, but then never meet up with me again.” She promised she wouldn’t and then she said that she had to go home alone. I didn’t see her again for a few weeks.

The next night when I showed up, there was no one except the owner and the waitress. There was a small stereo playing old recordings. The waitress sat smoking, dressed in all black, her curly Greek afro guided the wafting cigarette smoke to escape. The owner was sitting with his bouzouki and his whiskey. He very gentlemanly invited me in and sat me down next to him. He knew no English, and my Greek was still pretty bad so we just focused on playing music. The way it works in a Rebetika band is, whoever starts playing a song, everyone else just joins in if they know it. This is how it works during practice, while working on stage, or just hanging out. Somebody thinks of a song, and without saying anything starts playing it. At this point, nobody else is allowed to butt in and try to take over with a song they thought of. They must wait until the song is over and begin playing it immediately if they wish to play it. It’s an interesting form of etiquette. I find it both fair and liberating to have a small set of simple rules designed to keep people from playing over each other. If no one can play along with your song, then you stop and another song is selected. If no one knows the words, the song is skipped. No computers are consulted at any time. No Youtube, no online song databases. That’s all done in your private time because “the ones who wrote the songs and played other people’s songs back then had everything memorized” and that’s the level of skill and quality everyone is aiming for. The owner was impressed with my repertoire of some of the most obscure songs written by the most popular artists. I was in awe, simply because I had never been in the prescence of a bouzouki player who’s style and repertoire I respected so much, having a dearth of bouzouki players in America. His notes were harsh and present, they vibrated the air in front of my face. His age had done his skills well. His voice was in a traditional cantada style, which was a nice element. We went on like that until the lead bouzouki player showed up. The other guys in the group called him simply “the fat guy” even though by American standards he just had a large belly. The three of us played a few songs together but I had a feeling this man considered me an unwanted addition. They began to discuss the issue of me after I played a few songs for the fat guy. I didn’t understand most of it, but I think I got the gist of their argument. The fat guy was not on my side. He was coming up with excuses of why I couldn’t join. The main excuse was that my repertoire was too small. The owner insisted that I could easily learn all the songs they play if I keep coming back every day. He insisted that my style and skill was unique and good enough to be a positive addition. Yet this was unconvincing for the fat guy. At a later time, the waitress would tell me her suspicions that he was indeed blocking my access to the group because he knew I was better than him. It was a nice thing for the waitress to say to me and I choose to believe this because it is so flattering and because the guy was just generally a dick. He would stare at me while he was playing. He’d stare directly into my eyes with this look that said, “See, I’m better than you! Look what I can do, can you do this?”

Now, I’m not the kind of guy that cares to dethrone people who are that invested in their position. What would working with him have been like? I didn’t want to know.

Three other guys showed up which was a relief. They were much more lively and their styles were much more to my liking than that of the fat guy. One was young, and he expertly played some of the most difficult pieces in all of Rebetika. He was quiet and nervous but spoke English, so I got to know him best. Another was a guitarist. His strings were of nylon, which I hate. There’s no brute power in nylon. Nylon is for soft music that flitters. Rebetika is not soft music, even when it is fun, there is something terribly serious about this fun they have, as if it could be the last time they ever have fun. Nylon strings cannot convey this. Also, his style was unremarkable. But the third guy, an older gentleman, like the owner, was the king of the evening. He led us all. He took control of the entire affair and led us to a path of enrichment. He annointed us with his powerful singing voice, made me burst out laughing with some ridiculous move he pulled on the bouzouki. He was a clown, but one who could best us all at our own game. He was very fun to perform with.

Customers began to show up. It was a quiet night, it being a Sunday. The audience were silent and attentive. I had the chance to whip out a few obscure masterpieces that I save for the right moment to impress people and succeeded in doing so, but mostly I was in over my head. The fat guy was right about my small repertoire. But this was really a great honor, a night I will probably remember for a long time. When the night was over, the owner even paid me. It wasn’t much, 10 euros, but I took it as a token of appreciation, and as an endearment.

There were no girls for me on this night. But I walked out of Rebetiki Istoria with something far more important.

Locations in Athens

Key Bar
37  Praxitelous St.
Athens, Greece 10560
(+30) 210 32 30 380
Keybar.gr

Rebetiki Istoria
Ippokratous 181
Athens, Greece 11472
(+30) 210 64 24 937
rebetiki.istoria@gmail.com

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Saturday Nights in Sinza

By Richard Prins

The Mwenge Bus Stand: April, 2010

It’s Saturday night, and like the rest of Dar es Salaam, I’m in pursuit of starehe. Good times. Cold lager. Loud laughter. Callipygian women. And the most delicious music I can find. Nine o’clock is approaching and I’m still alone in the room I rent from my friend’s mother, sipping brandy and listening to “The Heart of Saturday Night” to remind myself what melancholy tastes like. I’m sending text messages, receiving urgent beeps. Every time I come here to my second favorite city the Saturday night circuit has changed. Last year’s top club got arrogant and started charging entrance fees, so all the penny pinching thrill-seekers fled to freer pastures. This year Milton Nyerere, grandson of Tanzania’s first president and patron socialist saint, has remodeled the dying Paris Club and christened it The Calabash. With its own house band that covers soukous, Bongo Flava, taarab, Afro and Euro and American pop, it’s the place to sell your face in 2010. People come all the way from Msasani, where the ministers and diplomats live, to dance and drink here in Mlalakua, the slummiest neighborhood in Sinza.

When I get home to New York and resume my studies, there are many things I’ll miss. Swahili and its fluid angularity; my friends’ antic-some sagas and grandiose hustles; all the strangers (there is no Swahili word for stranger), our spontaneous conversations, and being called Jesus for my hirsute benevolence in the bars, in the streets, in my home, even in bed. But I won’t pine for anything more than the starehe of Sinza, where joy is never more than 1,500 shillings away (500 ml beers generally run you slightly more than a dollar). I’ll even be plagued by dreams where I hop a Thursday night plane to Dar, only to realize I have to cut my Saturday night short to make it to Monday class on time. Most visitors to Tanzania find Dar es Salaam, the third-fastest-growing city in the world, ugly, unplanned, dirty, nothing more than a place to sleep and board a plane, just a stop on their way to animal-voyeuring or rural do-gooding. But if you find yourself in Tanzania, I highly recommend you ride a daladala to the Mwenge bus stand; all of the locales I profile here are within walking distance.

The Mwenge bus stand, Dar es Salaam


AMBIANCE: July, 2007

My first night out in Dar es Salaam. With my new mzungu friend, whom I hated for speaking better Swahili than me, and his mshikaji Ambrose. I also hated that when they first greeted each other as “mshikaji,” I thought they were calling each other “mshikaki,” which means “shish kebab” instead of “homeboy.” And they laughed at my expense, which is all part of being a mzungu. A neon turquoise sign glittered, AMBIANCE. Ambrose spoke to a thick brick of a man and handed him a 5,000 shilling note. We breezed past with halted glances as the bouncer pocketed our discounted entry fee. A deep, buoyant bass line rumbled in my ears and under my feet, lights strobed past the surprisingly sparse dance floor, illuminating the bar’s swarm of scanty-dressers. Through a barred window, Ambrose got all of us Safaris. Mike and Ambrose bounced into the limelight, which had more mirrors on its walls than people on its floor, and scores of drink-nurses on its outskirts. Mike threw up his hands like a frat boy and revolved a few times stiffly.

My beer twirled my hips into motion; I hadn’t felt so visible since I was the only person not dancing at the bar mitzvahs of seventh grade. I caught an eye that had set upon me, sparkling like her can of hard cider, which clinked a man’s Tusker. She wore a button-laden shirt with a price tag, in dollars, still dangling from the sleeve. She laughed at a joke that couldn’t possibly be audible over the pidgin grunts of “Banjuka Tu” (the latest track out of Kenya), let alone funny. Mike and Ambrose still had their hands up like frat boys. A splash of beer sloshed out of the bottle in Mike’s hand as he executed a few more flat footed semi-turns.

There was a howl in my ear; the sparkly-eyed lady nearly tripped over her heels (two sizes too big) to seize my shoulders and sway her hips in a smoother replication of my own. Bejeweled pink tendrils emanated from her thighs. She clapped with all her wingspan and whooped like a Maenad at the disco ball suspended from the ceiling. Again she gave my shoulders a whack. “Enjoy!” she ordered me, and spun around to rollick her buttocks. So I palmed the small of her back and traced her undulations, as she performed acrobatic squat-thrusts before me, her eyes transfixed by the narrow mirror, lapping up the sight of us amidst the coruscating postures. Dozens flocked to the dance floor. Young men banded together to hail each other’s moves. Mike had picked up a girl of his own, though she was already swinging her head to the disinterested left and right on every beat. I cupped my hands to my partner’s ear, so she might know I spoke Swahili.

“I’m the only one who doesn’t know the words!”

She cackled, “You will know!” She flattened herself against the mirror, one leg off the ground like a micturating dog, her hips vibrating hummingbirds flailing against the glass. Ambrose’s hand landed heavily on my shoulder, “Remember Jesus, if you fuck a prostitute, just use a condom.”

And the world made a numbing sort of sense again. The song ended, and something American began to play, presumably to appease us wazungu who had lured everybody to the dance floor. She scampered towards the bar in a manner that assumed I would follow. But I only broke away from the dance floor to lose myself in a crowd of hungry eyes, their word-breathing lips like mosquitoes scanning for veins on each other’s faces.

And I recognized the English song:

Now that it’s raining more than ever

Know that we’ll still have each other

You can stand under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

Under my umbrella

Ella, ella, eh eh eh

The dancers tossed up their arms with added vigor on the chorus of “Ella!” Hela. Swahili for cash. The entire room supplicant at the very mention of it.

Ambrose bellowed an earthquake into my ear, “Jesus! Let me take you a beer! Look at all the vicheche!” He’d already taught me the slang word for loose women; Vicheche refers to a type of savannah weasel that emits foul fumes from its anal glands.

Me with friends at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


I sought an empty bar stool among the diamond of miniature counters hung from the ceiling by strip-club-style poles. And there were thick arms around my waist. Grappled from behind, as if the barstool had been resurrected as an anthropomorphic tree. “I laaav you!” wailed my assailant, a chunky woman with glittery makeup and braids like chutes, eyes shuttered in blind drunk bliss. “Take me home!”

“Home? Where’s home?”

“Where you come from!”

“But you’re too drunk to walk!”

“No! I laaav you your body!!”

The middle-aged man she was sitting with frowned resentfully, cursing himself for buying her a last drink before getting down to business. Mike and Ambrose came pursuing new beers, Mike’s brow slick with sweat, cheekbones languid with intoxication. They saw the gridlock I walked into, and laughed to my rescue.

“She wants Jesus to save her,” Ambrose snorted.

“Save me! Take me!”

“I bless you!” I repeated for the dozenth time that day. Then the motion of dramatically, Jesusly placing my hands on somebody’s head. “Now go in peace!”

“No!” she stumbled to her feet, taller than me, huger than me, still gripping me.

Ambrose jabbered angrily. She screamed something back, crudely caressing my Jesus tangles. Ambrose stuck two fingers in his mouth for a shrill whistle, “Bouncer!” He gave a strong yank on one of her arms but she didn’t come loose. He tore at the other arm and my scalp burned at the pull of hair. He cocked his arm to strike; she cleared the counter of empty beers, flung one bar stool at Ambrose, the other at me. The hulk bouncer then dragged her away with much shrieking and little effort.

“Crazy bitch, huh!” Mike was impressed by how the night had developed. “Too bad she wasn’t good looking.”

“I hate that shit!” Ambrose fumed, finally releasing his pent-up punch in a thwarted fist pump.

“Man, I could tell you just wanted to fucking smack her,” Mike commiserated.

“We fuck her!” Ambrose Englished back. “Three dicks, one pussy!”

And not even misogyny could dispel a sumptuous alliteration assembling in my brain. “Kicheche kichaa!”

“Jesus! I take you another beer! She broke yours!”

“She must have been a Pentecostal!”

“Hope she’s not too hungover for church tomorrow.”

We colonized a countertop and sipped our last drinks. The blue label on the Safari Lager read:

As the red sun sets, like a growing tribute to our work, our pride, our tomorrows, one reward is in order. Full bodied, full flavoured, a beer for a people of purpose. Safari Lager, more than just a beer.

Meeda Club: October, 2007

She was rotund, bouncy and loud. Chilu liked that; on Meeda’s dance floor, he dove to her and hung from her thick neckline. She whooped and held up his puny frame for a few gyrations.

After stumbling off his feet one too many times, he pushed me into her and growled like a chainsaw, “Try it, Jesus!”

I traced her enormous butt’s rapid pumping with his hips. That’s right, my mind echoed with boozy laughter, I’m that white boy who knows how to shake his ass.

A dreadlocked someone slapped at my pocket and skittered away. I thumped my wallet into my thigh – still there, the fool didn’t know what to do with the baggy African pants I wore, their pockets six inches deep.

“That one tried to rob me!” I pointed, marveling to my partner.

She tossed her loose braids and a glance across her shoulder, then backed up into me like a pickup truck with hydraulics. “Don’t worry! Don’t worry! We have fun!”

Chilu returned to drag us out past the club’s patio; he led the way, but we balanced his dipsomaniacal gait. As they bargained, a familiar voice spoke to me from the darkness.

“How have you been, Jesus?”

“Cool, cool,” I bobbed my head, not recognizing the speaker. (I swear, I can usually tell one black person from another, but without streetlights, I can’t tell a black face from black night.)

“You didn’t get my email?”

Now I saw the corvine visage was Teacher’s. “Email? What email?” Last week he pawned his phone to the bartender for beer money; he promised he’d be sending me an email.

“About the school for street kids I’m starting?”

“Ah, didn’t see it. You know how the internet is mad slow around here,” I dropped my voice as though we shared some cosmopolitan understanding.

“My birthday is next Tuesday, you know?”

“Cool, cool, we’ll have to get some beers.”

Now I heard Chilu snap, “No, my dorm! Me and Jesus, we fuck you, 25,000 shillings.”

“Hell no!” she stomped a conniption in the road. “Rent a guest house. Then we all tombatomba!”

A lesson in Swahili grammar: Tomba means to fuck. Tombatomba means to fuck a lot.

Bwaga!” I tried coaxing Chilu out of his fixation. Drop it.

“Jesus, you have money for a taxi?”

“Your dorm’s a block away!” Half a block; we were already walking. “You’re drunk, let’s sleep!”

“No! Guest house!” she hollered, still adamant.

“Chilu, I don’t want it, you know I have a girlfriend.”

“You have two girlfriends!” Chilu snickered, flashing a pronged peace sign. “What’s a third!”

Hard to argue with that logic. But I already knew that Chilu would shortly throw a fit. Either right now. Or at the gate in front of dozing guards. Or in Chilu’s room and wake up our friends.

And then a firm, muscular wrist seized me by the Adam’s apple and whisked me off my feet. I hung from the arm like pants from a clothesline; another shadow barked in my ear, “White phone! White phone!”

The prostitute scattered as a fist exploded in Chilu’s face.

“If you’re gonna mug me, mug me in Swahili,” I gurgled my lifeline, and was placed back on my feet.

Simu iko wapi?” he demanded, less gruffly.

“In my pocket. The other pocket.”

He tore at the pants, and out popped a phone. He picked it off the ground, and unsnapped Tevas from my feet as expertly as one might a brassiere.

Kuma mamao!” I roared to the sky and Chilu, who was shirtless with a mustache of blood. Their mothers’ pussies.

“The bastards take my phone! My Professor Jay shirt!”

In the morning, I am that whiteboy walking barefoot to the daladala stand, preparing to beg for a free ride back to the university.

Did I pass her on the road? It was so dark last night – but what other heavyset, curly-braided woman would be slapping cahoots with a thick-wristed thug, his tall dreadlocks still glowering?

Maasai locals at local liquor bar, Dar es Salaam


Gaspar’s Place & Pluto: December, 2007

Teacher was surprised next Tuesday when I showed up at the squathouse he hoped to convert into a makeshift English school. The structure resembled Stonehenge, but instead of tourists, the neighborhood riff raff sat on cinder blocks, dragging on a joint and freestyling in Swahili. I didn’t partake in the joint, as I had reason to believe Teacher’s drinking was interfering with the efficacy of his TB medication. I was, however, pressured into reciting the one Swahili poem I’d written, which propagates an afrocentric theory of Jesus’s ethnicity. I had brought ten thousand shillings; Teacher ditched his customers and students so we could enjoy four rounds on two stools at a short wooden table. Gaspar’s Place was the name of the kiosk that had a large cooler, and an excellent collection of old-school hip-hop records donated by the regulars.

“Jesus, this means a lot to me, man,” Teacher’s baritone began to wobble on his fourth Safari. “Those years in the Lower East Side, I froze my ass every birthday! Nobody ever did this for me!”

“You ain’t freezing now,” I clapped his knobby shoulder, referring less to my beneficence than to the blanket of sweat that had followed me around the past five months.

“Who has paper!” Teacher shouted. “What’s your birthday, Jesus? Everybody here, tell me your birthday so I can write it down!”

I ripped a page out of my palm-sized notebook so Teacher wouldn’t see what I had already written about him. “February 6. But I’ll be back home by Christmas.”

“Then we’ll have a going away party instead! Pablo Escobar, what’s yours?”

The characters of Gaspar’s Place stopped reiterating their stances on the latest beef between Kanye and 50-Cent, and began shouting out their birthdays. Most of them are former members of the faux-gang Sewaside, some of them having made cameos in Swahili hip-hop music videos, others having made late-night promises to me that we’d record a single together at Bongo Records, any day now. “I never knew,” Scarface, the elder statesman of the local drunks and veteran bar-brawler, shrugged. “But I think I’m almost sixty.” I couldn’t stop staring at his face; he had a new gash in his left cheek, an inch long and almost as deep, his skin cratered with infected, desiccated pus the color of strawberry shortcake. I couldn’t imagine how much that hurt.

“Another round, Jesus?”

Niko mbovu,” I unidiomatically stated that I was “broke,” unwittingly using a phrase that essentially referred to myself as a “broken person,” i.e. a prostitute. It’s quite fortunate that East Africans have an uncanny ability to understand any and all manglings of their language.

“A moneyless mzungu!” Scarface snapped his fingers, his craggy face suddenly pneumatic with awe. “But a sociable one! Teacher, compare Jesus to the others. There is a reason the Tanzanians go around with him – he mixes himself! None of the others will sleep in Kijitonyama Hostel! Or come drink with us at Gaspar’s Place! But when you see Jesus, you see he is a man of the people!”

Buying people beers always pays off in excessive praise. “That’s right!” Teacher pounded the table. “It’s because he knows the Lower East Side! When I was a squatter there, we drank Midnight Dragon every night, and smashed the bottles when they were empty! Jesus, I’ll show you how the other half lives! We drank Safari tonight, but most of my people can’t afford Safari. They drink gongo, you know what that is?”

“I know it ain’t legal!” I arched an eyebrow, and followed him across the highway to the paths, where I couldn’t see the mud puddles and continually step in them.

“Everybody welcome Jesus to Pluto!” Teacher debuted me to a room with mudded floors, dim kerosene lamps and dimmer eyelids. “They call it Pluto because when you come here, you’ll never get back! Tell me, sister, have you ever seen a white man here before?”

The waitress nodded, unimpressed, “One time.”

“Damn,” Teacher pumped his fist in dismay. I too was dismayed that I could not claim, like Columbus, to have discovered this foreign land. “But I bet he wasn’t drinking no gongo!”

“He came from World Bank.”

“The bastards! I translated for them once and took them to Meeda. As soon as they saw how much beer we drink, I saw their eyes clicking, calculating how much money they could make if they just got us drinking Heinekens! Kuma mamao, bring us some gongo!”

For two coins, she brought us a jam jar filled with foggy liquid. Teacher had a deep sip and passed it along with an involuntary grimace. I lifted it to my lips and saw suspended debris, smelled corn husk, crucifixion and rubber cement.

“You quoted Jacob Riis earlier!” I realized. “You do know the Lower East Side!”

Every swig gagged me, hammered my head bluntly. I got so drunk on poverty that I fell in mud on my way back to the hostel and ruined my favorite dashiki.


Locations in Dar es Salaam

Mwenge Bus Stand
Google Maps

The Calabash
Sam Nujoma Road between Mlimani City and the Mwenge bus stand
(The intersection of Sam Nujoma Road and Bagamoyo Road)


Ambiance
Shekilango Road

Gaspar’s Place
Mlalakua (If it’s street is on the map it’s one of those forking out
behind the Calabash on the Mlimani City side of Sam Nujoma Road)

NOTE: People in Dar es Salaan don’t usually use street names, due to the fact that they don’t have signs. All of the listings above are educated guesses. The best way for anybody to get to get to these locations is to go to the Mwenge bus stand and just ask an autoriksha driver.

Barcelona, Spain

A Red-Lit Basement

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

The night was similar to every other night we had had in Barcelona. We’d go for a drink and take it from there. If nothing happened we’d go back to our place and have a couple bottles of cava. If something did happen, like we found a party or met some people who were club hopping, we would hang with them until we got bored. This was the easiest way I had found to discover a city. When doing this there was no telling where you might find yourself, who you might meet or what you might end up doing.

The next stop of the night would be Marsella, an absinthe bar. It was a tourist bar, I suppose, but it was the best tourist bar in the city. It was first opened in 1820, and the absinthe, from what I have heard from a reliable source, is brewed in the back of the bar. One thing I can tell you from firsthand experience, I have never been as happily drunk as I have been here. It’s even better when you realize you’ve only spent seven euros to feel drunk.

Bar Marsella

We had met this guy earlier in the night at a bar somewhere in the Barrio Gothic. We had just been standing there at the cigarette machine. Sophia and my friend Claire, who was from Paris and visitng Barcelona for the first time, were laughing and I wasn’t listening to them. There was bad music playing and we had just paid too much for our beer. It was precisely at that moment, when everything was adding up and I was about to be in a bad mood, that I heard a trailing voice pass me: “You from America?” it said. The girls weren’t paying attention to it, but I looked up and saw the man that the voice had come from. He wore a Yankee’s cap, so I pointed to my head and said, “We’re from New York City.”

He said, “Yeah?” It was questioning, as though he didn’t believe me.

I said, “Brooklyn.”

He said, “Yeah?” His eyes sparkled, “I’m from Queens.”

“Where?”

“Jamaica?”

“Off the J?”

“Yep.”

“I’m off the J, too. The Flushing stop.”

“That’s where my brother lives.”

We thought about what else we could say.

“Uh-huh,” I muttered, “another friend of mine from Flushing is living here. Right down the street actually.” (This is the friend who told me Marsella makes the absinthe in the back room.)

“I haven’t met anyone from America here.”

“Really? There are people all over Barcelona from America”

“Naw.”

“Yeah, I meet them all the time. People from all over the fucking place. Texas, New York, California, Washington. Shit, Claire’s from New Jersey and I’m from Georgia.”

He laughed. “Shit, where in Georgia?”

“Atlanta.”

“Aww,” he said, understandingly. “I’m moving here soon, I think. You know, because the situation in America is so fucked up.”

“Yep,” I said. I had recently watched Zeitgeist, and crazily thought he was talking about how fucked up American politics were. “Well, I really think you’ll like it here.”

We walked away from the cigarette machine and left the girls where they were. I said, “It’s similar to New York here, you have a subway at least. It’s just a lot smaller. You’ll figure it out in no time. If you got New York City down, then this is easy.”

“You know, I don’t know how to get around, so I’m just kickin’ it at my brother’s. I’ve been living in Camden, NJ since ’97.”

I laughed. “Just get a map. Do you even like it here so far?”

“I don’t know. The bitches are different. And they just pass you off like what?

“Well, I guess it’s difficult if you don’t speak Spanish.”

“Naw,” he said, “I do speak Spanish. My father is Dominican and my mom’s Puerto Rican.”

“That makes sense,” I said. For some reason I hadn’t assumed any ethnicity for him. “Well, you’re set then. I think you’ll like it just fine. What are you doing here, anyway?” That was the most New York question I had asked since I arrived in Spain. I felt like I was betraying my purpose for traveling. But sometimes these kind of feelings can be wrong, because the next question this guy asked me was: “You do coke?”

I was taken by surprise at first, but out of habit I then asked, “Why, you selling?”

“Yeah. And this shit’s good, dawg. I’ve seen them cook it.”

“What do they cut it with?”

“Baking soda. Shit’s ninety-seven percent pure.”

“I don’t know.” I was playing the game, the New York game possibly. I wanted a free bump, and he knew it. You at least have to get a gummer before you throw fifty down on a sack.

“Try it,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said, excitedly. But I wasn’t blowing it.

“I don’t care. I just moved here three days ago, and I’m trying to get some regular customers.” He handed me a folded-up American fifty dollar bill.

“How much of this do you have?” I said, referring to the currency.

He opened up his wallet and flashed me the cash. There must of been $7,000 in it. I acted cool, even though I wanted to knock out his teeth and take every cent of it, and then laugh in his face like a banshee in the night. Instead I would make him feel less about himself, since he had no previous international traveling experience. I laughed condescendingly, “That’s like monopoly money here, fool.”

“I know,” he said, but he wasn’t about to give it up. And I let a greedy wave, that had probably shown in my eyes, pass through me and be taken with the winds that howled in the alley. He then asked how much I paid for my ticket from New York City to Barcelona.

“Three-hundred. You?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve-hundred dollars!” I repeated. “Man, I’m going to go to the bathroom and do this coke, but you got ripped off.”

“Shit,” he said, “Where did you get it?”

“Cheap Tickets dot com, or something. Be right back.”

I passed Sophia and Claire, who had taken a seat at a table by the window. Sophia looked at me. I wanted to tell her the news, but the girls and I had talked earlier about getting coke and they had said they didn’t want it. I knew both of them would take it for free, but I always like to hold someone to their word.

The bathroom looked very hipster. They had Vice magazine pictures glued to the walls, very attractive women and men necking and sucking and even fucking! Pictures of cops getting head from young Spanish brunettes, bro’s rocking a shaka sign and boning a prostitute over the toilet! Pop culture had become sick and twisted, and I was glad I stayed out of it as much as I could. I hadn’t had cable for over five years, and I thought it was distasteful when someone did. I was so far distanced from what was happening I hadn’t even heard of HD until three months ago.

I shook my head and took my eyes off of the Vice pictures, and then I opened the door to the bathroom and some chick was squatting over the toilet. I closed the door fast, my cheeks running pink from embarrassment. Then I tried to open the other door across from it. It was open, but apparently someone had been waiting in line before me. He pushed me aside and went in. I didn’t start an argument because my Spanish wasn’t good enough to do so. I waited my turn and, when that asshole who had pushed me aside was finished, I went in the stall and locked the door. The coke was folded up in the fifty dollar bill in a little square. I looked inside of it, and there was a lot more coke than I thought there would be. I looked in my pockets for my house key, but I knew it would do nothing for me in this situation. It wasn’t shaped the way normal American keys are shaped (perfect for doing bumps of coke), it was shaped like an old lever key, which is triangular and not useful for doing coke. I searched my pocket for anything that may help me in my mission, but I found nothing. My credit and bank cards had been left at home and none of my coins would suffice. I finally dumped the whole thing into the palm of my hand and lifted it to my nose, sniffing like a pig in heat. I looked into my hand, expecting to see some coke left over, but there was none. I shrugged my shoulders and walked back toward the street, passing the girls and seeing Sophia again. Already I had that coke horniness, and so thought the stuff was good. I interrupted Sophia and gave her a kiss. She didn’t seem to be impressed, but as I walked away we looked at each other and had eye sex right then and there.

I knew she had liked it, and, at the same time, found it surprising. I felt good about it, anyway. At least she didn’t roll her eyes, I thought. That would have been a dagger to the heart.

He was standing outside. “What’d you think?” he asked.

“It’s all right. I think it’s laced with speed, not baking soda. That shit will keep me up all night with the shakes.”

“Naw, I’m telling you, it’s pure. I watch them make it.”

“Alright. Well, let me get your number. What’s your name anyway?”

“Jay,” he said. “Actually let me get your number. Then I’ll call you, and you’ll have mine.”

“Works for me.”

We made the exchange and he said, “Call me anytime. I’ll be around.” We shook hands and went our separate ways: him down the dark alley of Caller de Avinyo, and me back to the bar and the girls.

The girls, once again, were talking, and their conversation couldn’t have been any more boring to me. They were talking about birth control and the effects it had on a woman’s mental state. Claire had recently stopped taking birth control, and now was just going for it without any protection. Sophia and I thought it was a bad idea. The difference between Sophia and I was that Sophia told her it was a bad idea and I didn’t say anything. As far as I was concerned, she could do whatever the fuck she wanted.

Sophia always told the same story about her birth control experience. It went something like this:

(I’m actually going to ask her to tell the story now. I’ll record it and transcribe it later. She is in the room alone with the tape recorder, and I’m in the living room writing this. She’s telling her story, the horror story of using birth control. And she’s not the only woman who has had these problems. If you are a woman and you’re feeling crazy, it’s time to stop blaming it on your period, it’s time to stop blaming it on your boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your ex-boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your parents, your husband, or your children. It is none of the above, it is your birth control. Wake up! Read the reviews and the side-effects of your prescription! This isn’t news, ladies. This is a fact, and it may be happening to you! So if you are a crazy bitch, go talk to your doctor right now and get another script, get some Xanax – get something! But take Sophia’s advice to Claire, don’t actually stop taking birth control, just find the one that makes you least crazy. Because truth be told, us guys, we don’t like using condoms. It gives us even less of the pleasure we as men are able to feel. It’s a scientific fact, ladies, that the sexual regions of a woman are ten times more sensitive than a males’. So, in short, honey, baby (whatever the fuck he calls you), go crazy for him, but don’t go so crazy that you bother him and everybody around you. You have to be perfectly crazy to turn your man on. And I mean that with all the love in the world.

Yours truly:

BR)

I was smoking my twentieth cigarette by the time Sophia finished her story and I was ready to leave the bar. I knew a place that had good jazz some nights, called The Pipa Club, so I told the girls about it. We had all finished our absurdly small beers, that were quarter pints at a Euro-fifty a glass, and we were ready to go. We had a bottle of wine stashed in Claire’s purse, so the plan was to chug it while walking to the club. The club was about six blocks away at the Placa Reial.

For anyone who finds themselves in Barcelona and want to see good jazz, or wants to play good jazz, go to the Sunday night jam sessions at The Pipa Club. Jam sessions are equivalent to America’s open mics, except jam sessions are themed. At some places it may be Rasta themed, at some places it may be Electro Jazz themed, at some places it may be Flamenco themed – in the case of Sunday nights at the Pipa Club it is acoustic Ragtime and Gypsy Jazz themed. The address is 3 Placa Reial. To get in you have to buzz the bottom right button of the intercom, and they will let you in if they’re open. The bar is on the second floor. The focus there seems to be on stringed instruments, but the musicians are usually open to anything, as long as it fits the genre. I have seen some of the greatest unexpected orchestrations here. Seven guitarists, two violinists and a bassist, half of whom the regulars didn’t know the names of, and they managed to improvise one of the best stringed versions of “Dina” I had ever heard.


Sunday Nights at Pipa Club

The Pipa Club is not all great though. All in all it’s a hit or miss club. I have found Sunday nights to be consistent, but there have been other nights, nights when I was drunk and searching for jazz, only to enter the Pipa Club and find a room filled with Australian and Brazilian tourists wearing silken  shirts with their top three buttons undone, listening to house music, bobbing their heads, and speaking unfathomable babble to women way out of my league. So, in short, go to the Pipa Club at your own risk. And I suggest getting drunk before you get there, because beers are five Euros and straight liquors or mixed drinks are at least seven Euros, and the prices go up from there.

When Sophia, Claire and I got to the Pipa Club this night, after chugging our one-twenty euro bottle of merlot, we didn’t get buzzed in. We walked away from the door looking up to the second story windows, but unfortunately we didn’t see any lights on. I asked Sophia what time it was, and she told me it was past midnight. I knew they had after-hour times on Friday and Saturday, but it seemed strange to me that on Saturday they wouldn’t be open at midnight. “Well, Claire,” I said, “We tried to show you a cool club. I know they’re open on Sundays so, if you wanna, we’ll go there tomorrow.”

“That’d be nice. For tonight, it doesn’t really matter.”

Claire and I started walking to another bar, while Sophia trailed behind taking photographs.

“Are you tired?” I asked Claire. She had mentioned earlier she was tired from not having slept for two nights, and wanted to go home early. “If you wanna go home, it’s no big deal to me. We’ll walk you to your hostel from here. Or do you think you know your way by now?”

“I could probably find my way.”

“To tell you the truth, I’d rather walk you home anyway. That way it will give me an excuse to go to the absinthe bar. ‘Sophia, we’re already in this neighborhood, we might as well get an absinthe.’”

“Okay, okay,” she said.

We stopped completely and waited for Sophia to catch up.

“All right,” I said, “We’re going to walk Claire home.”

“Okay,” she said. Sophia was used to doing this. Claire had only been in town for two nights and we had walked her back to her hostel on both. Granted, it would have been extremely easy for Claire to walk there from where we were, all she had to do was walk straight until she hit Paral-lel. But Claire kept insisting she didn’t know her way, and then Sophia whispered into my ear, “Why don’t we just tell her to go by herself?”

I have always been good at keeping a secret, but never any good at subduing my excitement. “Because I wanna get an absinthe,” I blurted. She didn’t say anything. I had gotten an absinthe every night for the past two weeks, and, in that time, she had gotten used to the flavor, which she initially hated. Still, I knew she didn’t want to go to Marsella. “C’mon,” I said, “It’ll be fun. And I promise, I’ll just have a quickie.”

She pushed me away from her. “That’s what you always say.”

“Well, this time I mean it. One absinthe, and then we can go home.”

She gave me a dirty look that in my mind meant, “Yes, of course you can go to Marsella for an absinthe. I love you.”

I gave her a kiss. She gave me another dirty look.

Bar Marsella is located at 65 Carrer Sant Pau, and, like I said earlier, it is about two hundred years old. Many say it was the first bar in Barcelona. I don’t believe the place has been dusted since the day it opened. There are liquor bottles caked with resin an inch thick lining the interior walls, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling that are caked with resin just as thick. And just imagine, you can sit there looking at all this and think, “That’s the resin from the cigarettes of Picasso, Gaudi, Hemingway, and Dali!” And then scribble in your little notebook.

Unfortunately Bar Marsella is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a great place, and, as far as I’m concerned, the only place to get an absinthe in Barcelona. However, on a Friday or Saturday night it is packed shoulder to shoulder, reminding one of a club in New York City. And don’t go there expecting to hear any music made before 1985. They love to play artists such as The Cure, Queen, and Tom Petty. And they do not take requests, so don’t even try it. Apparently it’s one of their policies.

In no way were Claire and Sophia interested in being at Bar Marsella tonight. They hadn’t told me this, but it was all too clear by their expressions. I walked in with them, we stood in a circle in the middle of the crowd, and I was unable to hear anything they were saying. The crowd was so loud I couldn’t even hear the bad music that was playing. I asked the girls if they wanted a drink, and both said no. “All right,” I yelled over the buzz of voices, “I’ll be right back.”

I went over to the bar and asked for an Absinthe.

“Con agua?” asked the barkeep.

“Si, senior,” I answered. My Spanish wasn’t great, but I knew how to be polite.

The barkeep went to the next customer, and I dropped two sugar cubes into the absinthe. As the sugar absorbed the liquor I looked for the girls, but they were gone. I left my drink where it was and went searching for them. I found them outside smoking cigarettes. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“It’s too loud in there,” they answered.

I was annoyed, but wasn’t going to leave my drink unattended longer than a minute.

The sugar had already started to dissolve into the absinthe when I got back. I used the fork which was placed on top of the glass to mix the sugar. Many people like to light the sugar on fire, but I think that’s just a parlor trick, it’s a novelty, like blowing fire with 151. It becomes trite after a while, and you realize how unnecessary it is. Eventually you just want the drink, and that’s all that matters. Next, I mixed in the water and watched the clear yellow liquid become a milky green. I looked at it with a fiendish glare, and then drank it in two gulps, gagging discreetly on the second. Then I walked back to the girls, feeling congenial now.

“You didn’t have to drink it that fast. We’re fine,” said Sophia.

“I told you I was going for a quickie.” For once I had kept my word on such a promise, and I was sure Sophia was happy she hadn’t waited on me for an hour, like she usually did.

It was at this time that I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was Dan, Natalia, Xavier, and a couple others whom I hadn’t met. We started talking the shit: “That’s crazy that we just ran into each other like this”, “I tried to call you earlier tonight”, and “What have you been up to tonight?” We sorted through all the bull-shit and decided we’d hang out for a while. With everyone being excited for the next bar, we left bar Marsella behind and at the same time Claire. I hadn’t even realized she was missing until I asked Sophia. Then she told me she had forgotten to tell me that Claire had said good-night.

I didn’t like the next bar we went to. It played techno music, it was packed even more than Marsella (but people were trying to dance), the drinks were expensive, and it was extremely hot. It was so hot in this place that I decided to go outside for a cigarette. To my surprise everyone I had come with was outside smoking a joint. What’s crazy about Barcelona, and possibly all of Spain, is that its citizens are allowed to have two marijuana plants in their home, legally. It’s also legal to purchase weed, but illegal to sell it. It’s common to see a person light a pipe or roll a joint at the bars there, which suited my fancy. I had never been one to purchase weed, but any time it was around I smoked it.

I passed the joint to Dan, and he said the shit was making him tired and that he wanted an upper. I didn’t know Dan well, but I didn’t have any qualms telling him that I had just met a guy from New York who sold coke and delivered, and, if he wanted, I could call him and hook up a deal. Dan asked me if it was any good and I answered, “Well, I’m on it right now, and I like it.” That was a good enough answer for everyone. Xavier, Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I decided we’d pitch ten each and get a gram.

I called Jay and told him I wanted to get a sack. He told me that wouldn’t be a problem, but that he had gone back to his brother’s and would have to meet me in thirty minutes on Las Ramblas. I confirmed saying, “All right, I’ll meet you there at one-thirty.” Everyone wanted to know the status of the deal, and I told them I was going to meet Jay in a half-hour. That sounded good to everyone, and they all handed me their money. During the waiting period we went back into the club. I attempted to dance for a few minutes with Sophia, but there were too many people and we couldn’t move the way we wanted. “Do you just wanna get some beer on the street and wait for Jay?” I asked Sophia.

“I don’t wanna be here any more than you do,” she answered.

We had a problem getting out of the club though. I told Dan we were going to meet the man and that we would be back in an hour maximum, but he said he wanted Sophia to stay as collateral. But Sophia didn’t want to stay, so I comforted him, reminding him that he had my phone number, my email, and all my other information. I also said I had no intention of ripping him off, and this pacified him.

Like it always happens, the dealer was running late. I tried calling him, I tried calling Dan, I tried calling Natalia, but no one would answer their phone. As I was stressing out, Sophia was gaily taking photos of the prostitutes across the street. I knew they all would think I was sketchy now, but I shrugged my shoulders to this idea, instead deciding to blame it on them for not answering their phones.

Ladies of the Night, Barcelona

So, at quarter past two, I finally get a call from Jay. He’s getting out of the subway right now and he’ll be there in a few minuets. I tell him not to worry about being late and I’ll see him when he gets here. When he does get here the exchange is made with a handshake, and then we both part ways. An hour and fifteen minute wait for a ten second exchange and a fifteen minute high, I think to myself, what a deal!

Sophia and I start walking back to the club that we left, calling Dan and Natalia, but neither will answer their phone. Sophia and I are nervous about this, but at the same time it only means there’s more for us. This revelation brings comfort to our stroll, and we start realizing what beauty we are walking through. Barcelona is truly one of the most fantastic cities in Europe. Besides the Gaudi, just the simple Gothic architecture can make you feel that you are in a different time. All the cobble stone alleys, the terraces, and the dim-lit bars make the Barrio Raval and Gothic romantic at anytime. So Sophia and I decide to hold hands and enjoy it while we can.

Barrio Gothic, Barcelona


By the time we got back to the club it was closed. Sophia asked me if I wanted to call them again, but I said, “What’s the point? We’ve already tried to call them ten times.” She agreed, and we started to leave. But as we were going down the alley to the train station I received a call and looked at the number. It was Dan.

“Where you been, man? We’ve been waiting for you.”

“I tried to call you. You should pick up your phone every once-in-awhile. Hey, we’re at the club, where did you go?”

“Did you get the stuff?”

“Yeah, I got the stuff.”

“We’re going to this after hours club on Cera and Sant Pau. You know where that is?”

“Naw.”

“All right. Stay right there. Natalia and I will be there in a minute.”

The after hours club was located at 55 Ronda de Sant Pau and Carrer de la Cera. The place didn’t have a name, nor did it have any specific hours. It was ran by a group of hip African immigrants who threw parties whenever they felt like it, said Dan. All I knew was there was no cover charge to get in, and I didn’t have anything to lose. When we got there we all waited in line for the bathroom, and when it was our turn Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I crammed into a small stall together and finished the sack in no time. But it was too long for someone who kept knocking on the door.

The dance floor was downstairs in the basement, and it didn’t take long before I realized I didn’t want to be there. Once again it was some bad techno music, which seems to be an overwhelming trend that has spread uncontrollably throughout Europe. Currently I was a little drunk and extremely high on coke, but the music just wouldn’t do. I just don’t like techno, it doesn’t matter how high or drunk I am.

So I decided I would explore the building of this after hours club. In a way it reminded me of a warehouse party, except for the fact that it was located in the center of the city. It was an entire apartment building. The top three floors were personal rooms for the owners to bring their girls into, the ground floor was where the entrance and bathrooms were, and the basement was where the party was. On my way back to the dance floor I noticed a door that was cracked open, and peeked inside. Sitting in a circle were three men and one woman. One guy had a guitar and the other two men were singing call and response, as the woman would clap. It was Flamenco, my first experience with the heart and soul of it, and I couldn’t have been happier.

I went back and retrieved Sophia. The scene was so enchanting in that little room it was hard not to be mesmerized. There was a dim red light hanging above them and they all had six packs beside them. They were crying out there souls to each other, and those who were there were actually listening. Sophia and I just sat there watching, and soon the speed thoughts of cocaine vanished and all we could pay attention to was the next electric moan of the vocalists, and the encouragement of the listeners and the plucking of the guitarists. The next thing I knew I heard someone singing from across the way, and realized there were now more people in this room than there had been on the dance floor.

I had no idea how much time had passed, or where Dan and Natalia were, but that didn’t matter to me. People all over  the room were taking their turn singing now, women were dancing, people were clapping. If you weren’t participating you were watching with amazement. But all good things have to come to an end, and unfortunately this party got broken up by the owners of the club. They were pissed off that everyone was in this room and not buying drinks at their bar on the dance floor. We told them to fuck off at first, but they kept bothering us. In the end, I guess, the owners got what they deserved for breaking up our party, because the cops busted in and everyone slowly began to leave.

Sophia and I commenced our walk to the subway, which runs twenty-four hours on Saturday, but first talked to a street peddler and bargained two beers for a Euro. They tasted nice and cold in the cheap air.

Locations in Barcelona
Bar Marsella
C/ Sant Pau, 65
08001 Barcelona, España
934 427 263
Pipa Club
Plaça Reial, 3
08002 Barcelona, España

933 011 165
After Hours Club
55 Ronda de Sant Pau (at Carrer de la Cera)
08001 Barcelona, Espana