Friday, September 05, 2008

The Stink

Before I plunge too deeply into the Mexican chapter of my life, it is necessary for me to digress a bit and describe to my faithful viewers my living conditions in the great city of Berlin. I will draw heavily from the journal I kept during that time and embellish where necessary. My intent is not to slander my former roommate, Ben Pham, who persists living in those conditions somehow. But it is important for me to reconstruct those days of squalor so I can figure out how it is I wound up here – working close to sixty hours a week for five hundred bucks a month – and how the hell I survived for so long in Germany, working six hours a week and blowing five hundred Euros a minute.

So, we will pick things up on the 4th of July, in the present tense:

July 4th, 2008
We live in squalor. Ben's room is big enough for two grown men to live in, provided they took the time to erect some kind of partition, but we have not. The room is segmented into sovereign zones of garbage. My territory includes the deflated air mattress that I no longer sleep on and the heap of musty blankets on the floor that I curl up into these days, as well as a sinister black bag that contains six months of unwashed laundry. Ben has an actual mattress, an empty bookshelf, and several islands of dirty clothes and Assorted Shit that dot the floor like a Micronesia of filth. Thankfully, he has disposed of the lime green nylon mesh tube where he used to stash his dirty laundry. It dangled from the Chinese lantern in the ceiling and the fusion of light and stink attracted the fruit flies in droves.

There is a frameless mirror leaning up against one wall, like a portal to another equally disgusting dimension where all the crap on the floor is reversed. There is a constant droning, as though someone is drilling into cement, that seems to come from one of the neighboring apartments but assails us from all sides. There is a long hardwood desk where Ben and I do our paperwork. The desk is cluttered with triple-folded visa applications, US passports, the phone numbers of people who might be able to bail us out of jams, half-eaten foil-wrapped bricks of chocolate, a webcam that Ben hasn't used once since I got here, and scattered bits of plastic. Curled up on the empty chair next to me is the bike lock that I bought Ben for eight Euros at the flea market. He hasn't used that, either.

The place is so sloppy that I can't tell if it's getting better or worse, whether I am having a positive or negative impact on the apartment's overall level of entropy. The kitchen floor seems to be getting progressively stickier. It is impossible to ignore the fruit flies. Perhaps they stowed away in my luggage and followed me over from Poland. Or perhaps they have been here all along and I just didn't notice them when I arrived. Fruit flies become more noticeable as you go along. The Stink works the opposite way. You notice The Stink the first time you enter a room and notice it less and less every day thereafter, until the only people who smell it are those unfortunate souls who come into your room, or the people who are buying your drinks, because by then, The Stink is on you.

I'm thinking about leaving the country again. I'm approaching the possibility of life in Berlin like a starved wolf circling a visibly diseased carcass. Surviving here seems financially doable, but it only appears that way because I am not yet trying to make a living in Berlin. I am just a loafer and hobo-speculator at the moment, so I must be leaving a lot of things out of the equation. I can sit here and say, "$200 for rent. $200 for food. $200 for language school. I need $600 a month and fuck the rest." But there are always intangibles, and not just the ones people usually cite – unplanned medical disasters, travel expenses, taxes, apartment repairs – but also the True Intangibles, like Where the Hell Did it All Go? Those intangibles are multiplied twofold-and-rising by the flaccid dollar. So although the Berlin Bohemeslebens seems possible on the most abstract bohemian paper, in reality working a lot and coming home sweaty and depressed to our crumb-strewn apartment might not be so great for my psyche. It would be much easier to volunteer at an Italian winery. I would have my daily work. My host farmers would feed me three times a day and take me to the hospital if I started squirting chyme from my pores. I could stay there through the winter without having to buy any new clothes. And by the time the Peace Corps summoned me back to Blade Runner USA for my cough-and-turn, I would fly home with 500 bucks in the bank, all suntanned and lithe from months of Mediterranean cuisine and romantic farm labor.

I need to shut down this computer. Staying inside is driving me mad. I'm going to kidnap Ben and take him out for a ridiculous night in the Valley of the Turkish Whores.

That was July 4th. At that point in time, Ben and I were still going out on the town. Our credit hadn't yet crunched. Today I had planned on writing a pretentious rant about teaching the present continuous tense, but for our purposes, I think it would be better for me to continue regurgitating Berlin stories until I am fresh out of them. Then the pretentious rants will continue.

Hasta más tarde,
- Karate Keith

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