(Louisville, KY) August 20, 2010…
Two days after Klaus returned from his exchange program—a whole month in Croatia—he and I crossed paths at Jabootie’s. He looked vibrant as always, but he was half drunk… In truth, he’d been drunk for about thirty-two days.
Tossing a handful of kunas and other currencies on the table while opening his laptop, he insisted on showing me his travel pics. “You’re going to see a fine pair of tits,” he promised.
He was right. First was the image of his language teacher who he’d slept with most of the nights—a pert 27-year-old brunette. Then there was a shot of the two ounces of ganja he’d scored for a mind-boggling $60 USD. …The steppes of the Croatian landscape offered some dazzling scenic shots, including a succession of short waterfalls into lakes that were situated on varied levels of expansive bedrock—something like Nature’s inspiration for the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Klaus described these waterways as so unsullied that as his classmates rowed around in canoes, they dipped their Nalgene bottles in to scoop up and guzzle long pulls of fresh water in the summer sun…
Next was a photo of the Norwegian chick—Klaus’s second conquest—on the pebbly southern beach with her breasts exquisitely exposed to the sun, the sea, and a rabble of Euro dudes wearing Speedos. Even Klaus adopted the traveler’s approach on that beach, his bright smile gleaming above a red banana hammock. “When in Croatia...” we’d agreed… There were some photos of Klaus cooking with girls drunk on wine in a cramped kitchen—he was a cook at Jabootie’s after all. More than often, his culinary creations were laden with the grass he’d obtained for that absurdly low sum. He’d made palacinka, cevapcici, and even tried his hand at cooking up some lignje, which I understand is squid—all laced with marijuana. In just about every photograph, he was surrounded by women.
While there that month, along with smoking nearly all two ounces of weed with the girls, he’d managed to attend three rock concerts, snubbing his nose at the countless classical symphonies advertised on street marquees. He saw The Pixies, Modest Mouse, and Morrissey. This trip did not constitute the time of his life, because being young he had much life ahead of him… but obviously it was a rollicking, good fucking time.
Upon returning to the states, however, the sweet melody of his life struck a different chord. While on a stopover to visit friends in Chicago, he received a call from his mother who intimated that Grandpa had a somehow life-threatening urinary tract infection, that this man was venerably old and withered, and Klaus needed to come home pronto. “I’ll board a plane tomorrow, Ma,” he told her.
“Why not tonight, Klaus? You didn’t bother to call once in the past week! Did you even care about what was going on here? …You know, I don’t know you anymore.”
I confessed to him that I’d heard my own mother utter the same thing somewhere in my late-twenties… and she got over it. It didn’t make it any easier for him, though, when an hour later his future ex-wife called. He and Jessica were in the divorce process. According to Klaus, she called just so she could tell him he’s a dick and he could go fuck himself. This meant he’d be going home to no actual residence—no home, no apartment, not even a garage with an oil-stained floor and a cot. And he hadn’t slept soundly in three days.
Whilst trudging through the Union Station Blue Line to catch a redeye from O’Hare, he discovered he’d been pick-pocketed.
“Son of a bitch!”
The missing cash was aggravating but the bigger pain-in-the-ass was the chore of recovering all the shit you have to keep in your wallet to prove you are who you are. At least his backpack still housed his boarding pass and some kind of ID.
It would only be fitting at this point for the airline to have lost his luggage… which they did. This airline had a kind of Fuck You policy about lost luggage. “Get on the damn plane, sit down, and shut up. We’ll find your fuck-ass luggage,” in Klaus’s words.
I have discovered firsthand that no matter how careful you are whilst globetrotting alone, sleepless, and strung out, such exorbitant Bacchanalia often yields nearly instant—and unfortunate—karma.
Back in town that morning, Klaus called his mother to enquire about Grandpa; he wanted to visit him as soon as he could, especially after hearing there was more than just urinary tract issues at hand: spinal problems, congestive heart failure, etcetera… He begged his mother for a ride to the nursing facility.
“No,” she said, “You can just walk your ass there.”
On the two-mile hike to the old-folks’ home, Klaus found a third of a pint of Jack Daniels in his backpack and started in on it. He noted that it was beginning to take on the gustatory character of water. So it was almost empty by the time he arrived; and of course by then he felt much better. After the visit with the old man—who inarguably looked like shit but who was not so bad off as his mother had portrayed, he got a call from Megan. Megan, a close friend. She wanted to meet him for coffee nearby, and java was something that might help edify the blood in his alcoholstream. He met her at Hymen Brothers and within ten minutes over his double espresso catching up with Megan, the future Ex (Jessica) called him again. This time her tone was more civil; she wanted to… meet him for coffee.
“Okay,” he told her. “I’ll be waiting for you at Hymen Bros.”
The interesting part to me about this tale was the fact that Jessica didn’t know Megan from Eve… Klaus and Jessica were only a couple of months out of separation… but all the better, because this way Megan could sit idly by, one table over, and serve as a kind of sentry to assess Jessica’s body language during what would certainly be a trying encounter for my exhausted friend, Klaus.
She arrived. “I want to talk to you about some things…”
“Yeah?” Out of habit he proposed they go to the Irish bar next door. “How about we talk about things over there. The coffee smell is making me feel ill.” (Megan told him later that Jessica appeared to be… peeved at this request.)
Within 22 minutes of being at O’Leary’s, Klaus had sucked down three Jack and Cokes. While Jessica was talking to him, he entered some new state of consciousness: He was literally sitting upright with his head tilted back and his eyes shut, and while she was pontificating on fidelity and betrayal, he was thinking of the Norwegian chick, sweat glistening on her cleavage in the East European sun… His mind made leaps in the direction of horticultural farming… And he was also wondering when he’d recover his luggage and where he’d do his goddamn laundry. Jessica sounded to him like “some bitch talking over the PA at the Department of Motor Vehicles”—all jumbled, irrelevant dissonance, like Charlie Brown’s teacher. In the midst of her spiel, Klaus planted himself on his feet and made for the restroom. Two steps out of the booth he emitted an explosion of vomit that coated the floor and a wall panel with dripping, curdled chunks of cevapcici and hydrochloric acid.
“Nice,” I told him. “Too bad you didn’t hit any bystanders.”
A few of the nearby O’Leary’s wenches (“hot bitches, all of them”) were aghast, and a chorus of phatic repulsion filled the area… along with the stench of fresh ralph. Klaus scurried on toward the bathroom to upchuck some more… While barfing in the sink, he turned to a guy pissing in the urinal next to him. “Dude,” he muttered, “There’s a Latino chick out there. Tell her we’re leaving.”
“OK. Whatever, man. I’ll do that.”
You’d think this would be the culmination of Klaus’s day—projectile vomiting in a pub—but it was actually only half-past noon. And somewhere between the old-folk’s home and the Irish pub, he’d accepted from his mother the charge of picking up a prescription for Grandpa. He viewed it as an opportunity for redemption, to evince the responsible nature his mom alleged he’d left in Europe. In spite of stepping politely around the bartender who was mopping up his puke, he felt like all was not lost.
The now mortified Jessica hustled him out of the bar. She remained civil and even sympathetic. She took him to Walgreen’s… but in the car, Jessica needed to dilate further on Klaus’s behavior, filial disintegration, the impending divorce… and “whatever the hell else it is women need to jabber about when they need ‘to talk’.” For a half hour, Klaus endured Jessica’s delicate inquisition while sitting shotgun in a parking lot on one of the hottest days in the summer, sweating, jetlagged, and nauseous. He suddenly interrupted her mid-sentence: “Hang on one second,” he said, turning to blow chunks again out the window.
Then the glorious and beautiful nurturing instincts residing in (most) women surfaced full-bore, compelling Jessica to coddle him and take measures to make him feel human again. She gave him bottled water, procured a damp cloth for his head, stroked his hair. “God you’re a mess,” she declared.
His response of “No shit, Megan” wasn’t well-received—probably because “Thank you for taking care of me” was the reply Jessica would have preferred to hear. “Woops,” he added.
At this point Jessica shook off her kid gloves and booted him from her sedan, speeding off into the apocalyptic future. …Feeling tuberculotic, Klaus dragged himself, drenched in sweat, to Cherokee Park and fell down face-first, succumbing to a miniature coma on Dog Hill.
Five hours later he awoke, blistered by sunburn and covered in mosquito bites. It is surprising the Jack Daniels in his system didn’t serve as some sort of antigen to deflect the hungry bugs. Maybe it attracted them. This meant that his already-abject condition had graduated to a new level of misery. After scratching his sweaty skin long enough to draw blood, he called up Linnea—his closest friend in the area—who came to pick him up. While Klaus conveyed the events of his last… 768 hours… she cooked him up an omelet that was good enough to squelch the mild undercurrent of suicide ideation streaming through Klaus’s brain. And she also equipped him with some clothes…
Klaus needed shorts; the jeans he was wearing all day were soaked. So was his shirt. Linnea had to be at work by seven o’clock so she tossed him some garments and jumped in the shower. Klaus would wear anything as long as it kept him conscious in the stifling heat. The only shorts Linnea could find that would fit him were cutoff khakis with a gaping hole in the crotch.
“Why a hole in the crotch?” I asked, with one eyebrow raised, clenching my jaw.
“I dunno, she probably blasted a big queef and tore them open.”
Queef or no, before she left for work, Linnea took the time to sew up the hole so Klaus’s dick wouldn’t hang out… Naturally, he had to wear the same hiking boots he’d been wearing in Europe, except the socks Linnea provided were bright white, stenciled with a bold Jolly Rogers pattern. To top it off, she gave him a women’s shirt with super-short sleeves that strained to contain his biceps. It was black, truncated below the ribs so that Klaus’s midriff was showing, and the white print on the front spelled out FEAR AND BITCH STICKS, displaying a plate of deep-fried cod next to a frothy pint…
Being late for work, Linnea couldn’t take him in the opposite direction of her job so Klaus found himself walking once more to the nursing home. Now with the Midwestern sun still high, Klaus noticed his legs were bluish in tint. At first he was startled. Had he contracted some strange VD in Croatia? Did Jessica poison him with her bottled water? Was he having a massive coronary? But on close inspection he realized this affliction was merely a gross discoloration caused by the jeans he’d passed out in at the park. The cloying July humidity (coupled with his deranged biochemistry) imparted his pants with zero color-safe integrity. The jeans’ denim dye had bled into his skin like tattoo ink.
“Oh… fffuck,” he sighed, trudging south.
The faces of drivers passing him on Limestone Avenue reflected the appropriately twisted image of this sun-scorched man in his twenties wearing a cutoff women’s shirt, khaki shorts, and pirate-themed socks rising out of hiking boots—with blue legs.
By nearly sundown, Klaus arrived at the nursing home. The doors were locked—visiting hours over. They couldn’t have the coffin-dodgers spilling out into the night air, after all.
Klaus slept on a park bench outside the home, flat on his back. He’d managed not to drown himself in puke, which was one milestone worth mentioning. Moreover, he stated, “When I woke up, I was shocked I hadn’t been arrested.”
“You mean by the Fashion Police?” I joked.
“No,” he said. “Because I’d fallen asleep with the weed pipe I bought in Vodice hanging out of my mouth, and it was packed full.”
At 9am, the unsympathetic nursing staff opened the door. Maybe Grandpa would have some wise words for him, or maybe he had croaked overnight since Klaus hadn’t delivered the Rx on time. Ideally, the old man would be fine, and he would inform Klaus that he looked like a schizoid drifter. He entered the home, breathed in the mixture of urine and Lysol, and made his way down the hall…