Next thing I’m in some club dancing like a crazy person. A girl who spoke no English kept biting me and wouldn’t let me dance with anyone. I took my shirt off which in Spain means you want to fight everyone. It took me a good hour to get out of the place….”
by michael internicola
HASH and I cut through the fog coming into Barcelona and it looked hot. I had been in Europe almost a week. The Spanish game was different. I choked on exhaust as the traffic moved by fast. At the Olympic Port people were gathering by the beach for siesta. We grabbed some pastries but that didn’t hit the spot. Sweet childish things with belly rings showing were playing volleyball by the water and vaporous sky. We ate lunch and dumped our bags at a cheap hotel TUGBOAT told us about after a day of travel. I just wanted to get so far away. It was my unsullied possibility to lose. I swam in the Mediterranean that afternoon and once again it was the finest thing I had ever felt on my body. I screamed out to HASH reading a book, “Get the hell in here. Take her for a spin.” He was busy. The cold water numbed me but I didn’t quite much care. I could see my feet clearly on the bottom one hundred meters out. I didn’t give a damn anymore. The water splashed up and hit me in the face. The sea was understandable and warm. In the middle of this I’m considering my ex and how strongly she felt about me. I could laugh with Thayle. It was a side I’d never shown before but in the end we were just friends. We were pushing five o’clock and it was paradise to me. Out here, at the beginning, the punches of traveling sat perfectly still together in the heat’s shimmer. It was yet another clear place underwater to stare at the reflections. I could write it anyway I chose to. On the reef men were fishing. Sailboats were moving in and that had to be the greatest thing I ever saw. My hands were in the clouds. I told myself one of these days I was going to learn how to sail. It was time to say good-bye to my past. I could amend myself anyway I wanted. The waves drifted me to the left and I didn’t worry about anything. The blue sky continued to conspire. The left was fine with me.
The streets that turn were both along Carrer De la Vidrienda, by a tapas bar called Golfo De la Bizkaia. The two girls playing violin in the clothes shop were divine. HASH and I began drinking our faces off around ten. “What the fuck were we thinking?” HASH shouted, “We should have been out earlier.” We stumbled inside a bar filled with girls and smiles. The Spanish senoritas were eating shrimp and fish on top of the tables. Most of them looked like somebody I knew from another time, another life. Half hour in this one brunette was talking to HASH about California. Her girlfriends were leaning on the wall next to me telling me I was funny and had pretty blue eyes but in the middle of the conversation we’d been having things changed. The one I was talking to tapped her girlfriend and told her something in Spanish. “What did she say?”I asked the girlfriend. “Celine loves your eyes,” she told me. “She also says your tongue keeps coming out of your mouth. She says she’s bringing out the beast in you.” In my twenty seven years alive nobody had ever said anything better to me than that. Fuck if I knew what she really meant. The girls split and went to some disco party they wouldn’t tell us too much about. By one, HASH and I were separated. I went with the tide. Next thing I’m in some club dancing like a crazy person. A girl who spoke no English kept biting me and wouldn’t let me dance with anyone. I took my shirt off which in Spain means you want to fight everyone. It took me a good hour to get out of the place. I got lost trying to get back to the hotel. I had to shit so bad I considered going outside and probably would have if people had stopped walking by. I repeated the phrase, “Me go poo poo in your casa” a thousand times out loud. When I finally found HASH he was sprawled out flat in a puddle wearing plastic matador horns. A group of Polish virgins were cheering him on as I crept up close enough to get a word in. “HASH?” I said, “what the fuck are you doing?” He looked at me and started gurgling, “Get me out of here please.”
I rolled around on the mattress not being able to crash. I could still see the stars from the other night’s journey. Without me it would just be a memory. HASH and I had one bed so our asses wouldn’t stop touching. I kept thinking of Hanoi, the Philippines, Cairo, Casablanca, Russia or Sweden by the Gulf of Bothnia someday. HASH leaned over. “Are you ready for Amsterdam?” he asked me, not being able to sleep either. I turned over on my side. “I was born ready,” I told him quietly. “Born ready.” In the morning we decided to break up the trip with a stop in San Sabastian. We stuffed our faces full of candy bars for breakfast. I felt energized all over again to see a new place. The paper said that the Yankees beat the San Diego Padres 9-6 in game one of the World Series on Saturday night. Tino Martinez hit a grand slam, finishing off a seven run eighth. Chuck Knobloch also homered while David Wells got the win. We dicked off until it was time to leave and made the train by five minutes because HASH was looking for ice cream sandwiches. The incentive was to be free, to go where I would find true love both physically and mentally. I never wanted it to stop. The entire feeling of being there had moved rhythmically into my right hand. I wished I had somebody to at least read my books and give me an opinion but I didn’t. I’d moved around so much over the last few years that I never could get close to anyone. I always felt that would hold me back somehow. My relationships were friendships that could only go so far. I had my best gang of people when I lived in Los Angeles but I always hated it there so I’d never be back. My NYC friends were alright but nobody was willing to shake it down. I wanted a writing job but they weren’t in the paper. I had no idea how to go about it. I thought of teaching but I was living like a dog there as it was. I clung to Chuck Bukowski’s words above my writing space: Natural Guts Defeats Natural Talent. Writing was all I had. When the looks went south someday with the personality and the talent died all I’d have would be the memories written down. In Europe or the States it was all I had to fuse on to.
I slept all the way through much of Spain. We had a two hour layover in the capital city of Madrid so we just walked around inspecting things. Themold Quarter, called La Latina, was where we hung out mostly. Along the Manzanares river the built up parts of the city were architecturally striking while people picnicked through and through. We were in the San Sabastian train station about haft past seven that morning. Taxi guys lined the outside hassling us for rides but we walked to the tourist info place instead. Our first plan of attack. It wasn’t open so we just drank espresso and waited. “Just because we use a tourist office doesn’t make us tourists,” HASH explained. “I never want to be a fucking tourist.” The sun was silhouetted against the Bay of Biscay. It was the sunlight of my life. It was cold. We sat on the rocks and watched the tide’s grace going by. I spoke to it with my broken eyes and had my own ideas about it. Sunrises and sunsets are so different each and every day. It is the sun’s devotion to the sky and I believe it to be the most revealing secret I can find. For HASH it seemed to be so much more. My older brother sat there gazing upon the melancholy. At 28, he was living in San Francisco and about to split up with his girlfriend. His job was bartending and for the most part he liked that alright except for the customers, the pay, and the actual having to show up. Most times you can only do that gig so long. I didn’t know what was going on out there but I thought he was alright with his life. There didn’t seem to be any mad rush to do anything but travel and that’s solid. He wanted to be creative with photography but I didn’t think he’d make a living off it. It’s just lack of discipline from not knowing what he actually wanted. He disbelieved in America already knowing he couldn’t be what he was supposed to be from there. He wanted to be long gone and free to choose his own bad poisons, going toe to toe with the cavemen of the world. I could read his thoughts but I never said a word. I remained pregnant with it. HASH was coming down with a cold but continued to truck on. He was the way he was. He processed (possessed?) a certain energy for life that many people did not. A belief that somewhere there is a better life waiting-proof that he could be a better man. He feared falling too much in love, being comfortable and content. His arrows pointed in every single direction. I watched him over there and I didn’t know where he was going with things. He just didn’t say. It was sometimes tough for him to get the words out but maybe that’s my job-a job laid out for me in the grand scheme of things. His face, throughout the years, hadn’t changed that much. I knew him as a boy and now as a grown man sitting beside me. In my red book yesterday he wrote, “If you know your bullshit it’s the worst thing you can see. Do you really need structure? You do? I feel intelligent. I feel I’ve stopped learning some things. Things have a tendency to bounce off me. The clock ticks everyday but how much time do we really have? I don’t want to have to explain myself to you. It feels good to write. I feel you’re a good enough friend to take it all in. I miss the sun. How are you? You’re the only person I have met where I have the feeling that you are expanding me. I’m looking forward to finally meeting people or women who are going to take me to the next level, expand me and my mind but you are the only person I truly trust. I’m on page 114 of your book. I’m thinking every time I read your work I have all these thoughts but I never write them down. I met a pretty interesting girl in San Francisco. I don’t have a dying need to fuck her but I just like being around her. She’s actually special to me but I’m convinced that I will never be able to have a relationship with a woman. I don’t want to be comfortable. I never did. It is a joy for me to see how far you’ve come. Jules, I read your book and forgot you were my best friend. Jesus Christ, it may not sound like much but that fucking amazes me. It’s the first time I’ve felt or looked at you as a writer. I want to show the world. I just want to thank you for putting me in that frame of mind. You’re the only one who ever listens.” The stories would last for many years to come. After that we would eventually lead separate lives but the times and the course of those long go rounds would always last the same. I would write and he would read when he could. When we had nothing but nothing we always had each other to lean on for the most part. The experience down the highways of life ended up different for both of us but I know the seasons of emotion and devotion and my love for him would be there until the end of time. All I ever wanted was for him to be happy so I sing here alone for him, tonight while my Sunflower Girl sleeps in bed. I don’t understand the situation at times but I resign myself in trying to make a change. I work in the dark. The walls are my static. I don’t forget he was there when nobody else was. We all know that same old song too well I’m sure.
The waves remained choppy but still magnificent moving all gray and hitting the divider walls hard with splash. My eyes were playing tricks on me. All was not what it seemed. I wanted to find the river that led to dream girl. I wanted her to call me home. I do not think of a day without her here. Her blue skin had suddenly become my true calling. I wanted to keep my bones strong, shave my face and shower my body. If my destiny was to travel than perhaps that was my actual destiny. I would call it exploratory surgery. I wanted to circle the world ten times over but for now I was just hungry. We ended up checking into the Pension Loinaz near the fish market and it smelled like shit. Nearby shops had pictures of Anthony Hopkins attending the film festival where we finally got something to eat. Sometimes the Be Bob bar made noises but it was still fairly quiet. An older couple owned the place we were staying at. Neither one of them spoke English but we managed to communicate with hand signals and check in without any problems. There was a one o’clock curfew but the place would do. SAN SABASTIAN was a border stronghold for the war, only a few times did it actually fall into the hands of invaders. Many fires, however, broke out during its history and on twelve occasions it was partially destroyed. In the year 1808, San Sabastian was occupied by the troops of Napoleon who remained until 1813. It was not until then that the victorious Anglo-Portuguese’s army stormed the city and set fire to the buildings. The town was completely destroyed but its inhabitants, assembled in Zubieta, decided to rebuild. Although striking and probably going off in the summer months HASH and I agreed that freezing our asses off in room 14 sucked. After three whole days straight with my shoes on I took them off and slept from 11 to about 6 in the afternoon. The pad was cold enough to snow and the heater didn’t work, “Bitch better tell us how it works” HASH grumbled, sneezed seven times and blew his nose. The beds were small and the sheets were stained a bunch. I left the room a little while after that to go down to the waterline, get medicine for HASH and take pictures of the fishing boats at sunset. I walked to The Santemo Museum, Enea Park and La Zurriola beach where I gawked at a girl with her top off. Other than her the sand was deserted and the wind was blowing. On the mountain overlooking this small fishing village was a statue of Jesus with his hands reaching out and protecting the miles of space around. Back by the water, I happen upon a mother and two daughters. The mother had pulled the car over to let one of them go pee. Afterwards I asked the mother if I could take a couple shots of them all. She said yes. I started out taking photos of the girls chewing lollipops and holding two balloons. The kids were shy and kept sticking their heads underneath the mom’s skirt. I believed I had an amazing one where I caught the not-so-shy little girl off guard and right in front of the lens. There had not been a place I could not stand being longer than the time allowed. I watched the balloons stretch up to the sky when the little girl let go bending down to fetch a rock. If beauty be in the eyes of the beholder then beauty be that of me standing there by the white rail. I stood, as that man, and wrote while the cops watched me scribble, while the car rode away. HASH came down after an hour and gave me a wave. The following day was cold again and sometimes rainy. We waited most of the afternoon for the weather to break but got drunk at a local spot instead. HASH and I reminisced about our trip. It was 2:26 and it wouldn’t end. I bought a pack of cigarettes and he made a face. On route to Amsterdam was next. I called Thayle to say hello. She wasn’t home so I sent her a wine stained postcard instead. I didn’t have much to say in regards to us. I wrote the Black Crowes were playing in Amsterdam and I wanted to stay but people wanting to be places didn’t enjoy hearing about what they were missing. In fact, it’s hard to speak about the travels once you get back to wherever you come from. Sometimes it becomes a long winded story and most of it doesn’t make sense to anyone but you. The pictures don’t fly with friends-the things one brings back and such. You eat the memories until you meet somebody else who went where you went but even then most likely you’ll just trade stories about scenic escapades every last everyone has seen. The feelings, and I mean the times that changed you, end up being just for you. They make a traveler, if you choose to use dumb talk like that, every thing they are. I refused to sleep. I could see implausibly blue skies just above my head. It was here that I came up with the title of the book. I wished it out on paper. The man I was before I left New York was dead. Much like the butterfly’s metamorphic life cycle, I began as a small egg, developed into larva and grew deep roots in my heart. When the pupa stage hit I was in my third phase of life, attaching myself to the branch, the twig, when love was young and we had sex all the time. The old acquaintances would fade as those days moved on, splitting me open as a brand new adult too see and venture the planet. None of these times I would ever forget. Curiosity and so-called liberation would become my two new best friends.
It was still dark when we reached Henday, France. I didn’t know what day it was but it still felt good. I read Miller’s Letters To Emil tucked in the corner of the train by myself, “I love it here,” he wrote his best friend referring to Paris, “I want to stay forever. God dammit, I’m going to hang on by my teeth. I don’t want to return. Misery there. Here-pleasant misery. I start tomorrow on the Paris book. First person, uncensored, formless-fuck everything.” At 6:30 A.M. we arrived back in Paris for a layover. It was murky and damp pulling into Gare De Nord. Once again even in my simplest actions I found an energy, something bottom floor that I couldn’t fully explain. It was another strange familiarity. My brief hour in Paris got my senses going again before we boarded the second train heading through Brussels. We missed the 8:35 and cramped into the 9:55 instead. The first hours were dull. Reading Miller’s letters made me cry. I was reminded where I should plant my feet. Back in New York I struggled with everything gig wise. I felt initially I would have to do the same thing, as in the hospitality industry or a stupid suit job, to stash cash for my trip back here. I felt I could give myself a few weeks, money wise, alone in Paris to gain some kind of rescue before I had to go home. A small girl stood next to me. I gave her my seat and moved one over. HASH remained a glutton for punishment. He farted, stepped on other riders and swore miserably but he managed to get us two one-ways to Amsterdam for 150F compared to the eight something before. The boy had a flair for that. I barely felt like writing anything down on paper but still I continued on. As we cut through Belgium I started reading Miller again. “A man doesn’t live many lives….” he wrote, “unless and until he dies many individual deaths. Everything is won with pain and sacrifice, at the cost of bitter illusions. Meanwhile I am rewriting Tropic Of Cancer once again, as I told you. Hard job. Hard to imagine that empty belly and the fever and the suspense and the nightmares. Mostly it’s the construction of it I’m altering. And eliminating as usual weeding out the useless shit. Putting in new shit.” The Netherlands was our destination. Through the tunnels the land was green, the sky gray and dreary. At Mechelen, these towns grew tough of my eyes. It made them hurt. At momentary stops its people looked beaten unlike the other things we’ve seen. The girl on my right was reading by a spider web drawn out in the corner of her seat. I hadn’t showered for two whole days and outside of HASH I have not had contact with anyone. He was my second mind. At Den Haag, there was a windmill in the grass. The gentle sun illuminated the farms and the crossroads offered a wonderful ease to what I was thinking about. I had my sunglasses on. Gay words like glorious exist. The sundown shined past a belly of minor notes above the vent. HASH shrugged at me. I smelled the scenery and my spirit lifted and the load I was carrying felt more like a child’s ankle weight. The sun was so bright with the stars on my mind. The blue sky was a lifetime friendship, its definitive motion shipping itself like a baby, rubbing and running itself all over my fractured overgrown body until at last it stayed there hidden in my heart. Then, of all things, the beginning to the moment of truth.
There were very few roundabout discussions, nothing preceding any of these so called events unfolding in Amsterdam later on. When I woke up that afternoon inside crazyville 72 hours later the game was on. Amsterdam was the same as everybody says. We found a hostel for 23 bucks called Dirty Nell’s and checked in. I showered, shaved, and sweated in the room making notes-waving to other hotel guests passing by the cubicles like Miss America. Every single cent I had was in my jeans or scattered along the towel at the end of the box spring. We had come to a new phase in our adventure. For two days solid we smoked pot and gawked at hookers inside the glass booths doing their song and dance. “I can’t pull it together. This is the Devil’s playground,” HASH would scream over to me every once in a bit, but really nothing after that. He was funny like that. His body was dysfunctional in a stoned haze of White Widow or Afghani smoke. Mostly we ate Burger King or french fries in a cone the whole time we were there. The Black Crowes cancelled their concert and moved it to Paris. In a club called Melkweg we got news that the Yanks had won the series. HASH jumped for joy on five hits of X while I met a freckle-faced Dutch girl with a lip ring playing pool. She asked me to write down authors for her but by the time I got a pen in my hands we were all smoking again. Nobody said much after that besides the three Manchester chicks with dots on their faces who kept showing up out of nowhere spieling weird shit like, “Your on your way and me on mine” or “It won’t light. I give up.” The month since I stood up at La Bastille seemed to vanish within a blink of an eye. I felt uneasy about this. I sat on the plastic couch in Hill Street Blues and drew our names down with a magic marker. The misty morning sun was gone hours ago. Its ill tempered face stood silent in the darkening sky. The patrons ate space cake digesting that. It took an hour for me to move from the spot. The truth is I didn’t blink. For reasons I can’t come up with I felt I had to be above it all, or at least that’s what the fiction told me. The sex shop vibes blended down Urinoir Street with dildos and animal porn in the front store windows. Men with cruddy deep voices were selling mushrooms by smart shops on DeWallen. It was like a carnival. My best friend was comatosed. For twenty minutes straight he spoke about driving the Phoenix to Mr. Meno’s math class, Mulligan’s Brick Bar and 7th grade putt-putt when I had the booger on my nose. We stopped back at the hostel to shower and change our clothes but ran into two Hungarian chicks rolling joints and drinking Kooper. They spoke perfect English, took us to the Van Gogh Museum and got us higher than shit. Later, I kissed some flyer girl with a brown shirt on. The complexities of our fate changed direction. The three days in Amsterdam were pretty much the same: smoke, eat and wander for lack of a better term. “Are we going out?” I’d ask HASH from any number of those narrow places. “Is this Argentina?” was always his reply. The last night we entered Alberto’s Steak House around seven something speaking with German accents, ate our beef in fifteen minutes, and left. We checked our backpacks at the station and planned to stay out until morning. Cave Bar was next with the freaky weird motherfuckers watching Tom and Jerry cartoons all strung out on something. This is where I lost HASH and ten hits of ecstasy. It was all part of a drug induced fantasy so nothing ever caught up.
After several minutes clowning around with myself next to a pool table mirror I managed to leave. The gentle moon illuminated the passage ways. I had a beer at the Bulldog while everybody chanted and watched soccer. The glitz of its British interior spelled chain bar so I left. I made travel notes sitting by a garbage dump. I searched the streets for HASH but there was no sign of him. It began to get cold again. The red lights hung tired while I strolled slowly digesting the drifters, the creatures, the caged women of the night. In a lust world did it really matter how you made a buck? Some licked their lips, some just looked and some were washing stockings in the sink. Every one of them, scattered from around the globe, was sexy but things didn’t jive. I considered a three-way momentarily with the two Swedish blondes waving me in or at the very least grabbing some ass but decided to move on. The theory was never kind to factor. It was soon pitch dark. By three in the morning the Venice of the North was magnificent. The Herengracht canal glistened with all the fucked up Walletjes atmosphere. It was still a novelty of some sort. The stars hit my sleeves and hoody head first while I grabbed another Whopper by Royal Palace trying to kill the munchies. I returned to Hill Street Blues and sat at the bar. I sat there ignited by the spectacular grandeur of it all. The place was full even at that hour. The bartender did a shot with me and she gagged. I laid a twenty spot down and turned around in my chair. I was being watched. Off in the distance I could see brother HASH sitting by himself gawking at me. In between the smoke and music I howled out his name twice. He just sat there with that same shit-ass grin I’d known since we were five. He didn’t move a muscle but I knew what he was thinking. He loved it there. His eyes began to flicker. He nodded to me before hitting up the john with a finger point and two leg kicks straight back. I pictured myself looking at 300 sheets of blank school lined paper trying to talk about him and what this book would eventually be about. I imagined myself living in Paris without anyone around writing a weighty novel about my heart beating fast. I surrendered myself to it by passing silent ones to the beats of The White Stripes on the jukebox. Moments later, HASH patted me on the back, “I don’t feel like going home, man. I don’t have that much longer.” His voice was weak and all serious. “Don’t think about it,” I told him, but Jesus, he was leaving. It sobered me up a second. The journey was almost over. For two hours we sat in a sex shop watching two girls go at it. Then the Grasshopper for some tea. The tickets out of Holland said 7:30 A.M. It was nearing that time already. We sat there with our hearts jumping out of our bodies, “You’ll be aright,” HASH said to me over and over again, wiping pizza off his jeans. “You have to be here, broke in Europe, and learn.” He said, “You’re the one. You’re the writer, Julie. It’s just the way it is.” I told him I didn’t know. We took to the channels of water on our walk back to get our bags from the station. HASH and I sat there watching the sun come up. There I understood but I wondered how long I would have to wait for it. The blue balloons remained strung out in that version of little girl heaven. I looked over at HASH and he took a photo of the boat lights reflecting. “I can’t wait to see the pictures,” I told him, but he just sulked and kicked the dirt. The trip would be longer for me. I would spend three weeks plus by myself in Paris defying the category of broke American writer. HASH would return to San Francisco and catch the third degree from Velcro but that wouldn’t last. “Thanks” I said to him. His sweatshirt was tied around his waist. “For what?” he answered, but I just shook my head. I felt sorry for it. He mentioned Brazil or Greenland in a haste to cover the world. “I got 217 bucks, let’s go,” he would say. “Go where?” I asked and he made a face. “North. Fuck it. Let’s go north.” It was brilliant. A single beam shot at us both waiting there silent after that. A crude reminder that we would be parting ways eventually because of money bullshit. It’s where we proved to be men. We waved goodbye to Amsterdam, emptied our pockets full of junk and jumped on the train heading back to Paris. Whatever the outcome of our lives we would always have these four weeks. Many times we’d say the same thing even in other foreign lands. Two countries over a girl like I’d never known before was coming off a plane from London. A red blaze shot across HASH’s face. Looking back it was the best time we ever had.
(illustrations: troy dockins)
Michael Intericola came to New York City to go to film school and in those years has written five books, made a movie, sold manicures and pedicures and served many many drinks. Excerpts from his novels, Kiss Me Baby, Sunflowers!, Chaz, and All Our Skies Are Blue have appeared in Caffeine Magazine, The Quadrangle, Mule and The Mosquito Lounge Review, which he started in Los Angeles in 1996. More from Michael can be found in the Vault of Smoke.