Monthly Archives: June 2012
The next few days in Hannover are kind of a blur. I remember waking up for our first full day in Germany and being greeted by Imke’s mother, a sweet woman who, like most mothers, immediately sat us down to eat. There was steaming and delicious coffee, decadent rolls and pastries, and a mysterious hazelnut spread called Nutella that I had never tasted before.
Of course, this would only scratch the surface of the culinary wonders—and oddities—I would soon encounter.
Imke later introduced us to a number of her friends, one of whom was the guy planning to drive us to Berlin for the show. I honestly cannot remember his name, so we’ll just call him Hans. I suppose that would be like calling him John or Bill in America.
The friend I remember meeting most was another Alex, only this time it was short for Alexandra. She was a gorgeous blonde who typified the ideal German woman: long blonde hair, longer legs, beautiful features. I’d call her Aryan if it didn’t carry that Nazi stigma.
Alexandra completely changed my perception of European women. I can’t tell you how many warnings I received from my buddies before leaving for this trip. “Those chicks have hairy legs” or “I hear they don’t shave their armpits” were among them, so I fully expected German women to look slightly less hairy than werewolves.
My friends could not have been more wrong.
Given that Alexandra was so open and I totally lacked tact—and still do in many ways—I engaged her in a conversation about this misconception. We both studied the thin layer of fur on her arms and legs. I call it fur because unlike most body hair, this was very light and extremely soft. Looking back, Alexandra almost seemed like one of those Pandoran women from Avatar, only she wasn’t blue or seven feet tall.
Another misconception I had came directly from my social studies and history classes. I grew up thinking of all the German people as Nazis, even though nothing could have been further from the truth. Having Imke at my high school for a year started changing my perception, but actually being in Germany and meeting the people firsthand completely obliterated it. I have and may never meet people who are so generous and kind, and who so genuinely seem to love Americans. These days, Americans traveling abroad have to be a lot more cautious. Back then, however, I almost felt like a minor celebrity.
Our handful of days in Hannover was filled with sightseeing, drinking, eating, sleeping and all sorts of activities and experiences. We went barhopping downtown and I learned quickly how each establishment brewed their own signature beers and ales. At one place, they even brought you a wooden milk crate, each slot containing a small glass of beer, either one specific brew or a variety of different flavors. And there were like 20 or 30 glasses!
There was also a bar known as Amadeus where we met some of Imke’s friends one evening. After several alcohol-soaked hours, we discovered that one of our drinking mates owned a sailboat… and it was tied up at a lake nearby. A short and stumbling stroll later, we found ourselves floating in the middle of the lake taking vodka plops. Basically, we all had paper cups of champagne and would drop a shot of vodka into them before slamming the entire concoction back.
My head was spinning when one of the girls decided we should take a dip. Alex and I of course had no swimsuits and, being naïve little Americans, never considered the fact that they would be unnecessary. I always knew that Europeans were notorious for having few inhibitions. I just never thought I would witness this phenomenon firsthand.
Everything changed seconds later when all of the women—and several of the guys—stripped down to their birthday suits and went flying into the dark water. Alex and I chose not to participate partly because we were hammered, but also because of the obvious side effects of a cool night and even cooler water. To this point, everyone seemed impressed by us simply because of our nationality. Why ruin things?
After several days of hiking through Hannover, drinking like fish, learning German words and meeting wonderful people, it was time to start preparing for the trip to Berlin and the concert. And to get there, we were going to be taking the legendary Autobahn…
Although I’m no longer a concert-goer and would rather enjoy iTunes than venture into a crowded amphitheater or stadium to hear good music, I was fortunate enough to have some really memorable concert experiences along the way.
Near the top of my list are my many trips to see The Grateful Dead while Jerry Garcia was still alive. And I served my time in parking lots bursting with tie-dyed colors, hacky sacks, veggie burgers and other “trippy” freak outs.
Let’s face it. Teenagers long before me recognized The Wall as a defining album in their youthful development. And I’m certain that teenagers for years to come will have similar experiences with this timeless masterpiece. Personally, I can remember listening to the album repeatedly in my first car, at parties, live (when performed by most of Pink Floyd’s members in nearby Raleigh or Charlotte). Any chance I got. I can wax nostalgic for hours just thinking about it.
As big of a Floyd fan as I was—and I truly loved the band and their music (still do)—I simply couldn’t touch the obsession of my friend Alex. It was he who first heard about the concert sometime during our senior year of high school. Roger Waters swore he would only perform The Wall again if the Berlin Wall came down and, in 1989, that very thing happened and the stage was set.
The only problem was that between the two of us, Alex and I barely had enough money to finance a stateside Pink Floyd concert, much less an overseas trip to see an all-star studded event in Europe.
But Alex was persistent. He convinced me that with enough begging, peppered with promises to pay the money back as quickly as possible, we could convince our parents to front us the cash. Alex even arranged for us to stay with a beautiful German exchange student named Imke who spent the previous year at our high school. She was part of our circle of friends and welcomed the opportunity to not only lodge us, but also to accompany us. All we had to do was make it there.
Honestly, it did not take nearly as much convincing as I thought to secure financing from my father. He was always extremely generous and never expected anyone to pay him back—even though I assured him I would and meant it—but I never imagined a trip to Europe would be in the cards. Granted, it would only be for one week, but it was still a trip to Europe. And it would become my first and only trip to that part of the world.
Things went equally well for Alex and before I knew it, we both had airline tickets, spending money, lodging, transportation to Berlin and tickets to the concert. A few dreadfully slow months later, we were in the air and on our way.
Our first adventure began on the plane, where we started drinking heavily the moment we hit international waters. Hell, we were both 19. What else were we going to do?
I have rarely been a heavy drinker, but I must admit that I was ordering everything I could think of. Gin and tonics. Screwdrivers. Straight shots of Jack. And Alex was matching me drink for drink. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good as we “crossed the pond”.
By the time we reached Frankfurt, we were buzzing like crazy. A lot of signs were in English, and the German people generally speak it pretty well, but I was certain we would get lost in the airport. Divine providence stepped in and, by some miracle, we were able to recover our luggage and make the train to Hanover.
That’s where we started drinking again.
Our cabin—if that’s what you call it—was typical of the train cabins you see in films set in Europe: seats on either side; a fold-down table between them; huge windows on both sides; and lots of dark wood and brass. It was absolutely beautiful.
Even more beautiful was the sweet older woman who periodically rolled her cart full of food, wine and beer past us, stopping to sell us anything we desired.
Well, the old woman and April, a gorgeous young model that joined us a few stops later. She was roughly 19, American, and in Germany for some kind of photo shoot. At that time I had a tiny, battery-operated Walkman with these tacky little speakers you plugged in to the earphone jack. They sounded like crap, but April and I immediately bonded over The Sundays’ cassette I started playing. “Here’s Where the Story Ends” still brings back some fond memories. (Check it out sometime)
Further down the track, we were joined by another American, this time a middle-aged repo man who spent the last 20 years in Germany.
The four of us had a grand time. Laughing and listening to music. Swapping stories. Tossing back tasty German beers and cheeses. It was incredible. And my buzz continued to grow.
April and the repo man both had early stops, so we bid them farewell and settled in for the final stretch to Hannover. By now we were physically exhausted, fairly intoxicated and ready to crash. And that’s just what we did.
Later, I awoke to the sound of the conductor announcing another stop, so I immediately checked my map. Actually, I should say that I misread my map. I thought we missed Hannover, so I panicked and must have scared the hell out of Alex. One minute he’s resting peacefully; the next, he has a freaked-out lush shaking him frantically and rushing him to gather his things.
For two slightly soused individuals, we really pulled things together quickly, though. Within seconds, we were ready to leap out at the next stop, dash to the ticket booth and reverse direction. That’s when we heard the conductor again, except this time the stop he announced was Hannover. We didn’t miss it after all.
I thought for sure Alex would slap me for good measure, but he showed remarkable restraint. And Imke was there to greet us the moment we stepped onto the platform in Hanover.
A short drive later, we arrived at her parents’ home, settled in for the night and dreamed of all the good times to come…
Before I even started bartending—most likely during a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii more than 20 years ago—I simply fell in love with tiki culture. Ornate, wood carved statues with terrible, joyous or even surprised facial expressions, rumored to have magical powers. And many of us likely remember the tiki necklace that resulted in Greg Brady face-planting into a wave during a surfing competition.
Throw in some Mai Tais, tiki torches, volcano serving dishes, Polynesian cuisine, beachcombing, little umbrellas, steel drum music and perhaps a little reggae and BAM! You have one of the most exotic and memorable experiences of your life.
Bartending—or mixology, which sounds great but is exactly the same thing—certainly intensified my love of all things tiki because now, I was making the boat drinks and watching for the smiles, which always came. I even had the pleasure of tending bar in a small restaurant outside of Charleston, SC. It had a tropical feel and plenty of fresh seafood and such.
It just wasn’t the same as my dream bartending job: working in an actual tiki bar!
I envision a thatched roof, open walls that face the sea, servers in miniskirts made of palm fronds. And I mean the guys, too. Strangers would stroll in from the beach smelling of salt and coconut oil. They would tell stories of their real lives back home in Nebraska, Georgia or maybe Rhode Island. Living from paycheck to paycheck. Dealing with illness, joy, tragedy, success, doubt. Appreciating every moment in this little paradise on the coast.
The unfortunate reality now—at least in terms of enjoying that tiki spirit and the freedom it brings—is that I am the stranger. If I’m lucky enough to have the money it takes to visit a place like this someday soon, then it will be me telling the stories. Me with the sunburn and aloe-glazed skin. Me ordering daiquiris and Jell-O shooters until I can hardly stay on my stool. And you know what?
I can hardly wait.
Follow your bliss…
Although this isn’t a full post, I did complete a short movie trailer that I felt like sharing. My hope is that it draws some useful feedback, suggestions or criticism, so please feel free to comment. Your opinion is very important to me and I would certainly appreciate it.
I warn you, though, the subject matter is rather mature and could be offensive to some. If you’re very young or cannot tolerate crude, sexual humor, then please check out one of my more tame posts.
The link to a PDF version can be found here:
I hope you enjoy it!
Moments ago, I saw a commercial with clips from the film X-Men: First Class asking viewers to give physical activity a try. Apparently there’s some kind of hero website kids can visit to join this team of heroes who really love physical activity.The obvious irony, of course, is that the commercial encourages both physical exercise and more web surfing. “I can’t wait to join up! And then maybe a few more videos on YouTube. Or a quick search for celebrity porn.”
What bothers me is how physical activity has now become nothing more than another product advertisers have to sell you. These days, it’s all about marketing, as we all know.
When I was a boy, we had to make our own fun. And we didn’t have video games or iPods, either.
This is the stereotypical approach someone my age would take with our youth. And to a large extent, it is true. I grew up in the 70s and during that particular decade, you had to make your own fun or you would simply die of boredom. Thankfully, I was young enough to possess an almost limitless imagination, as well as the wherewithal to create my own adventures (like the children’s book series of the same name, which allowed you to make choices that would change the story almost every time you read it).
Today’s youth are far too connected to technology for that. Yes, they still possess powerful imaginations, but many escape into technology instead of venturing outdoors or keeping physically active. Video games are indeed quite awesome. I myself am an aficionado, having started my journey on the original Pong console, followed by the Atari 2600, the Commodore 64, the Nintendo NES, Colecovision, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Playstation 1, 2 and 3, Wii… you name it. I have always been connected and you know what I learned?
I learned that advertisers should try to persuade people to try physical activity. And I feel like part of their target demographic.
It’s not that I sit on my ass all day and don’t get at least some exercise. Granted, I do that a lot, but I am slightly active. Not as much as when I worked in a Mexican restaurant, but I get a little here and there. Of course, I am very aware that I need much more and should be working harder to get in shape. It gets more and more difficult as you get older, and time is ticking away.
Remove all the technology from my past and I am certain that things would be very different.
So please, advertisers, continue to reach out to us all as you endorse physical activity. There will likely come a time when technology fails and we will all be left to flounder in our easy chairs and on our sofas. If you can convince even one of us to join you outdoors, running and laughing, jumping and sliding, then it will be worth the effort.
Drop your cell phones, people… put away your laptops and PDAs (except to check for updates here, that is)… and get those muscles moving. And please do me a favor, would you?
Convince me to do the same.
gnos·tic (n s t k) adj.
Of, relating to, or possessing intellectual or spiritual knowledge, esp. esoteric mystical knowledge.
bent (b nt) noun
A natural talent or inclination: “a man of religious bent.”
Taken literally, the title of my first blog could be interpreted as “a natural talent or inclination of, or relating to, intellectual or spiritual—especially esoteric mystical—knowledge.”
But what does that really mean?
I suppose someone visiting my blog for the first time might wonder if I’m some kind of religious or spiritual guru. Or if I possess some magical knowledge of the future. Maybe some tea leaves or crystals. A prognostication or two? Am I the second coming of Nostradamus?
Not even close. I just thought it sounded cool.
And to be perfectly honest, all the really good names were pretty much taken. I’m new to blogging, but blogging is certainly nothing new.
As always, I am late to the party.
Nevertheless, I feel the title is appropriate because (a) I do value knowledge of any kind, (b) I am naturally inclined to pursue knowledge, and not always in academic ways, and (c) in religious terms, I am ag-GNOSTIC. See? Most of this word is mentioned in my title.
And again, I just thought it sounded cool.
As for what I hope to address in this, my first truly public forum, I honestly can’t be sure. After racking my brain for weeks, trying to determine the best possible topic for a blog—perhaps one that could be monetized in the future—I finally realized something.
None of that really matters. After all, this is my first attempt at a blog and the important thing is to write… a lot. Find your voice. Follow your bliss. Let it all hang out.
You know… all that stuff the “blog masters” and writing coaches tell you to do (and you know who you are).
Actually, though, I completely agree. Writers write. And I’m definitely not a writer.
At least not yet.
As an English major in college, I eventually collected two degrees, a BA in English/Journalism and an MA in English/Creative Writing. I’m not bragging, of course, but I eventually found myself teaching freshman composition at a small, private college. It only took a semester or two for me to grow weary of reading terrible writing, much less writing my own. Eventually, you correct errors with their and there so much that any creativity you have is completely sapped. At least that’s what happened to me.
So this blog serves another important purpose: it gets me writing again. And that’s something I feel I sorely need at this point in my life.
Besides, everyone knows that I have a rather deranged sense of humor, very little shame and absolutely no tact—not always in a bad way—which simply must be unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. Well, you suspect it now, but only because I let it slip.
And there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever read this, either. I mean, I’ll probably tell some close friends and family members about it. Maybe some people at work. Or on Facebook or Twitter. I normally post very little on either site, but I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility. And a few of them might actually check it out, but not because they enjoy it.
Because they feel obligated. I certainly hope this doesn’t apply to you, but if it does, thanks.
And if I am lucky and interesting enough to attract some regular readers, or to interact with some stimulating characters, all the better. Yes, I would love to have one of those monetized blogs that generate tons of monthly revenue, but the sharing of ideas and opinions with others is obviously the most important outcome. Next to actually writing again, of course.
So as this blog grows, I promise to be as entertaining, thought-provoking, unfiltered, merciless, welcoming, friendly, obnoxious, respectful, unwavering, punctual, laid-back, ambitious, upstanding, unusual, ridiculous… yadda yadda… as you want me to be.
In the meantime, if this blog must be defined, I certainly prefer this:
WELCOME TO MY STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS BLOG!
It’s a journey, baby. And we’re not taking a map. Buckle up. It’s sure to be a bumpy ride…