Sunday, March 31, 2013

Iranian Rain Dance

One more Saturday night. One more Sunday morning. I was the last man standing. I was the last man sleeping.

I woke up around noon and everyone was gone. I left the last of my money with the hostel babushka, gave the thoroughly pregnant hostel cat one last pat on the head. I walked back into town. Along the way, I realized that I was carrying a plastic bag full of everybody else's crap: Pringles tubes, empty packs of Pirvelis, half-full bottles of beer. There wasn't a trash can in sight, but there was a dumpster up ahead. Just to make sure nobody was living in there, I scaled up the side of it and stuck my head over the rim: inside, the usual Georgian refuse - Pringles tubes, empty packs of Pirvelis, half-full bottles of beer. With my good arm, I heaved the bag into the dumpster and heard it chock against the bottom. An instant later, I saw a big fat Georgian man come storming down the hill. No! he was shouting. No no no no no! I stood there like an oaf and waited for whatever was to happen next.

Huffing and puffing, the man looked me over. He looked at me. He looked at my cast. He pointed at the dumpster and said, "Pick it up."
"Excuse me?"
"Your garbage. Pick it up."
I held up my cast, shrugged my shoulders.
"I don't care. Pick it up."

I scaled up the side of the dumpster and reached for my bag of trash. It was unreachable from all angles. My wrist was smarting like hell. The Georgian dude got tired of watching me struggle and climbed into the dumpster himself, fetched my bag of trash, and climbed back out. I thought he was going to hand the bag back to me. Instead, he smacked me over the head with it. Then he handed it back to me.

"Thanks," I said.

It was my first premonition that things in Georgia were about to head south. And they would head very far south, indeed. But for the time being, the whole summer stretched between me and the tattered threads of my worn out welcome mat.

I got my cast removed a couple weeks later.
One of the nurses asked me if I was married.
"No," I said.
"That's good."
"You're right," I said. "It is good."

Everyone I knew had left Georgia on the Georgian government's tab. Weird Beard had flown to Spain. The Irishman had retired to his native Ireland. Jerry was back in Arkansas, soon to relocate to Korea for good. Laura was in Turkey, bound for Poland and The Ukraine. I couldn't for the life of me decide where to go, so I wound up staying in Georgia. I'd spend my weekdays reading in bed, reading on the porch, getting into mild-mannered mischief with my host brother, going on long walks by myself. On the weekends, funds permitting, I'd sneak off to Zugdidi and shack up at the hostel and get into some international mischief with the United Nations of Tourists. All sorts of people came through that summer. There were delightful Britons, and wonderful Czechs, and lovely Poles. I'd mention to the Poles that I'd once lived in Poland, and when I told them where, they would giggle uncontrollably for the remainder of the evening. Comedy comes very naturally when your whole life is a joke. There was an Israeli dude who objected to my smoking while he ate his dinner on the patio. I apologized profusely and retired to the dark corner where the pregnant cat hung out and I stroked her head and smoked my cigarette. When I returned to the patio, the Israeli dude was smoking a cigarette himself. I blinked.

One morning, I woke up with the hostel all to myself. There was a strange squeaking noise issuing from under the bed. I rolled over just in time to see six kittens come tottering out. One by one, they clawed their way up into my bed and settled on my bare chest to knead my manbosom and nap. The hostel babushka found me sleeping that way later that afternoon. I could hear her talking to herself. She thought it was cute. I think I earned some points, there. But I was to lose them all before the summer was through. We were, all of us, to lose a lot of points before the year was through.

Then, back to the village. More boredom. More books. Three square meals of potatoes and cucumbers. Plenty of Georgian television. Every once in a while, I'd hike into town to read an email from Weird Beard, who was washing dishes and slowly screwing his way across the Iberian peninsula, or from the Irishman, who was getting rich on the dole, smoking himself into a vortex and drinking twenty cups of tea per diem, or from Laura, who had managed to get her leg squashed by a boulder in a Turkish earthquake. Then I would hike back home and go to sleep at nine PM, or whenever the power crapped out, which was usually pretty early in those overheated days.

When I received my pay at the end of July, I decided I'd blow it all in Batumi: the Black Hole on the Black Sea. I fell asleep on the marshrutka but woke up in time to read the overhead sign as we arrived in Batumi proper: "'In five years, Batumi will be the best city in the world.' - Donald Trump." I blinked.

If you've been to Puerto Vallarta, you've been to Batumi. If you've been to Cancún, you've probably been to Batumi, too. In short, Batumi is the sort of place you might go with your gaggle of spring break girls, or your posse of spring break boys, but not the sort of place a single man should visit alone. That's mostly how I felt from the moment I got off the marshrutka: painfully, woefully, oafishly alone.

I'm not sure how long Batumi has been around. "Not very long" would be my guess. Certainly, it didn't begin to exist the way it exists now until a couple of years ago, when a glut of oil money washed up along its shores. It's not a bad place to be if you happen to find yourself in Georgia with plenty of friends and a bunch of hard currency to blow. The weather is tolerable pretty much year round. There are beaches, though they are decidedly not the sorts of beaches you'd want to write home about, not unless your parents are geologists who happen to specialize in large, abrasive beach boulders. It costs five bucks to rent out a beach chair - something I found out the hard way - and the bars charge outrageous covers but still play Kenny G, same as anywhere else in Georgia. Still, Batumi was a much needed respite from the village life. There were foreigners everywhere, none of them Westerners, but foreigners nonetheless. And there was a certain Chinese weirdness to the place that I found appealing, if only because I lived in - and loathed - and actually kind of missed - China.

Much of the city was under construction. Perhaps that's why it reminded me so much of the People's Republic. More to the point: the buildings were being built the same way they build them in China. Cheap stone, cheap labor, crummy scaffolding; it looked as though everything going up was about to collapse. The signage reminded me of China. There was a banner above a construction site that read, "APOLOGIZE FOR ALL TEMPORAL DISCOMFORT." I reached for my camera but remembered that my host sister had broken it months before. The sides of unfinished skyscrapers were draped over with massive plastic tapestries festooned with internet clipart of beachside resorts that in no way resembled the dilapidated concrete monstrosities under construction, photographs of pasty, pasty white couples sipping dirty martinis on pristine white patios. The American dream. If the Chinese can achieve it, why not the Georgians? I used to walk up and down the Batumi boardwalk along the Black Sea, ogling these architectural nightmares, darting furtive glances at the stroboscopic night clubs as I passed, thinking I'd maybe pay the cover if it meant a shot at dancing with a pretty girl from an exotic former Soviet republic, and then, catching a snippet of C+C Music Factory, I'd decide emphatically against it, and I'd walk along the boardwalk until the boardwalk came to an end, and then I'd walk all the way back to where I'd started and then I'd walk all the way back to the hotel and go to sleep.

One evening on the boardwalk, this freakishly musclebound dude came jogging towards me at a very brisk pace. The moment I saw him, I knew he was an American - perhaps the first American I'd seen since I'd arrived in Batumi. The self-obsessed musculature, the backpack, the iPod, the earbuds, the revoltingly clingy Under Armour running shorts. I could barely suppress a sneer. He came to a stop right in front of me.

"You speak English?" he said.
"You can take picture of me?"

So he wasn't an American after all. I regrouped, tried to gauge the accent. German, maybe? He handed me his camera and got into position. I maneuvered myself such that the sun was setting over his right shoulder.

"No no no," he said. "Not like that."
"But the sunset, I - "
"No sunset," he said. "I want you to take picture so that rays of sunshine are, yes, glistening off my body."

An odd request. But to each his own. When in Georgia. I repositioned myself such that the achingly lovely sunset was in no way featured in the picture, only the rays of sunshine, yes, glistening off the dude's body. He struck a pose, flexed ever so slightly. Then he hustled over to see the finished product.

"It is not bad," he said. "Two more photos please."

Here was a man for whom there were only six wonders of the world, all of them conveniently located on the northbound happy trail that traversed his abdominals. We did two more shots.

"Many thanks," he said. "Would you like to eat an apple with me?"
"Sure," I said. "I like apples."

We sat down on a nearby bench. He reached into his backpack and took out a plastic bag full of fruit. He and I noshed on a couple of apples. Georgian tourists were already slowing down to stare at us as they passed. One reads about animal odd couples on the internet, but what the hell would the Huffington Post make of this? Six foot five musclebound health freak with indiscernible accent befriends twiggy chainsmoking ginger bearded American oaf. Life is just the universe making jokes at our expense.

"You are from?"
"America," I said. "What about you?"
"Iran," he said.

Racking my brain, I realized that I'd never in all my travels met an actual Iranian before. This Iranian, in particular, did not line up at all with any of my Iranian stereotypes. It occurred to me that I had no idea how to talk to an Iranian. What was off limits? Was there anything that wasn't off limits? Perhaps most troubling of all: a half-naked bodybuilder had just offered to watch the sunset with me. And now we were eating apples together. Was I getting into something that my libido didn't want me getting into?

Disarmament came swiftly and organically. He observed that President Ahmadinejad was a nutjob, something I agreed with. I observed that certain American military adventures in the Middle East were a mistake, something he agreed with. We both concurred that all religion was a farce, that Georgia was among the strangest countries on earth, and that cha-cha was pretty much the most vile substance ever imbibed by man. Fast friends.

"I have proposition," he said. "Do you like cigarettes?"
I nodded, smoking.
"Do you like wine?"
I nodded again, wanting a drink.
"I propose we go to my hotel and smoke cigarettes and drink wine."

This came as a surprise, seeing how he'd spent much of the past hour trumpeting the virtues of teetotalism and slagging off on the sad, fat state of the average Iranian man. But it was a welcome surprise. I saw no better way to spend an evening with an Iranian dude who could easily twist my head off in the crook of his index finger.

Almost immediately, I recognized his hotel for the brothel that it was. There was mouth herpes everywhere. The lingua franca was Ukrainian. We were ogled as we entered. The Iranian - his name was Hamid - cracked open a door adjacent to the main lobby. Inside were about eight men, all of them fat, dancing rather close to each other to the tune of C+C Music Factory.

"It is strange, no?"
"They are all of them Iranian."
"Do you know them?"
"No," he said, "and I do not want to."
He shut the door.
"Where are the girls?" he cried, unable to hide his disgust. "To dance is very fun, but where are the girls?"

We went upstairs to his room. In the hallway, an Asian-ish woman gave Hamid the eye. She gave me an eye, at least, if only in retrospect.

"Prostitute," said Hamid. "All of them prostitutes."

Hamid invited me to sit down and demanded that I eat several pears, apples, and oranges while he took a shower. In the fridge were a couple plastic bottles of Armenian wine, and he said I could help myself to those, too. He would prepare a dinner of canned fish when he got back out, but in the meantime, I was to take off my shoes and make myself at home. He waited around to make sure I took off my shoes. Then he hopped in the shower. I poured myself a Fanta. In the fridge was a XXL jug of protein powder, and a XXL jug of some nutritional supplement I'd never heard of. I ate a pear, then I ate an apple, then I ate an orange, just for something to do. When Hamid came back out, we ate canned fish, then we gathered up a couple bottles of Armenian wine and went out to the front porch.

Almost immediately, it started to rain. Hamid was in hysterics.
"Have you ever seen this?"
"What?" I said. "Rain?"
"Yes! Rain!"
"Plenty of times."
Hamid had gotten out his digital camera and was recording a video of the rain.
"I have never seen the thing like this," he said. He turned the camera towards me. "Never in my fucking life! What do you think, Keith?"
"It's a fuckton of rain," I said.
"Yes," he agreed. "A fuckton of rain."

It was a fuckton of rain, too. I hadn't seen anything like it, either. Not in Georgia, at least. We went back up to the room and sat out on the balcony, taking in the squall. Much thunder, much lightning. The streets were already starting to flood. Hamid's enthusiasm was not to be contained.

"Rain! All the rain! All the rain in the fucking world!"

He offered me one of his cigarettes, poured us both a glass of Armenian wine. We drank and smoked and watched it rain. On the next balcony over, the Asian-ish girl had appeared and was giving Hamid the eye.

"Where you sexy boys are from?" she called. "American?"
"He is American," said Hamid. "I am from Iran."
"Me Tajikistan."

This, apparently, meant that they both shared a little Persian in common. They got to talking. The long and short of it was that Hamid didn't want to sleep with her for five dollars, and neither did I. She eyed me with mild disbelief and went back inside.

"It is okay for I said you didn't want?"
"It is very okay, indeed, Hamid."
"Good. You have taste. Five dollars? Jesus."

Across the street, in the thick of the storm, a Georgian man had walked out onto his balcony, shirtless and wielding a broom.

"What is this here?" asked Hamid. "What will Georgian man do?"

The man reached up with the broomstick, trying to nudge a satellite dish mounted some fifteen feet above his head.

"Bummer," I said. "He can't get the Saakashvili Hour."

The man clambered up the banister, perched there. Poked around with his broomstick. He was seven stories high. Perched atop a narrow rail, an inch or two of rusted metal. I thought I might puke. He couldn't reach the satellite dish. Hamid busted out his camera, started recording.

"Hello, Iran. Today Georgian man slide and fall to death."

Meanwhile, down below, the streets had flooded completely and a remarkable scene was taking place. The eight Iranian dudes had poured out of the herpes lobby disco and out into the street and were now dancing like fools, fat and shirtless and joyous in a thunderstorm. They had never felt rain before. The flab was flying every which way.

"My God," said Hamid. "This is pathetic. This is so bad. This is why I never want to return to Iran."

Me, I thought the moment was passably sublime. Hamid recorded the whole thing. An Iranian rain dance. It went on for ten minutes and was very nearly escalating to a certain kind of transcendence until one of the guys puked and another one ducked into a cab with two Asian-ish prostitutes.

"He is getting lucky. I speak to him earlier. It his birthday," said Hamid. "Happy birthday, you fat bastard."

Plenty enough wine. Plenty enough cigarettes. I walked back to my hotel with a sweater pulled over my head and fell asleep watching the Olympics. The next afternoon, I got up and walked up and down the boardwalk again. I didn't run into Hamid as I'd hoped, but I came across a zoo, so I went to the zoo. They had one of those Japanese monkeys that tend to chill out in hot springs, except this one was sitting in a cage, wallowing in its own shit. There was a concession stand that sold hot dogs, so I ate a hot dog. Then I got bored and caught a marshrutka back to Zugdidi. I couldn't bear another night at the hostel, so I hitched a ride back to my village. I lost Hamid's email at some point along the way. So I never heard from him again. May the sun glisten photogenically off his six-pack, wherever it may roam.


I realized much too late how weird my living situation was. Well before I first donned the teal racecar t-shirt of Orthodox Georgian shame, I'd invited a bunch of foreigners to my host household for an end-of-semester supra. Weird Beard, the Irishman, and a nice girl named Leslie - in a few short hours, they'd be caught up in the thick of it, surrounded by adoring villagers from a village not their own, drinking, drunk, drunken. Nobody in my host family had seen more than two non-Georgians in their lives. That night, they were to see four of them in action simultaneously.

In Georgia, a supra is a nominally formal occasion in which the men drink homemade wine and homemade vodka to elephantine excess while the women set the table, cook a twelve-course meal, collect dirty dishes, wash them, drink a toast or two while remaining sober and clear-headed and servile, for they must constantly empty ashtrays and bring new ones, fix coffee, make dessert, mop up vomit ... The men are expected to drink. Is it ever exhausting to be a man.

The men drink shots, shots of cha-cha, shots of wine. There is no savoring, no nursing, and there is no drinking alone. There is no drinking at all unless a toast is proposed, and all toasting runs through the tamada: essentially, the Stalin of the supra. He appoints the toaster and he nominates the toastees. You may politely ask the tamada for permission to stand up and propose a toast of your own, but you may never, ever, under any circumstances usurp the tamada's toast. I had quite a notorious reputation for doing so without meaning to - particularly after that fateful tenth toast of the evening - and for that reason, I became known far and wide as The Rogue Tamada of Samegrelo Province, one of many nicknames I was to acquire during my ten months in Georgia.

As the night escalates, shot glasses and wine glasses are put away and the horns come out. They are literal horns, the sort that cuckolds wear: hollowed-out cow horns, hollowed-out bull horns. These, usually, can be found dangling from the walls of any Georgian living room, regardless of whether there is drinking going on or not (and there usually is). The tamada starts with the small horns first, then moves up through his collection until, by the end of the night, you find yourself drinking out of a horn the size of your head, something that might well have belonged to a mythical or prehistoric beast. And you are expected to guzzle everything down at a single go. This is why I described the supra as a nominally formal occasion. Things always start out formally enough, but how would Emily Post have you projectile vomit all over someone else's living room floor?

I could sense the electricity in the house when I woke up on Supra Bowl Sunday - it was the only electricity we'd had all week - and by noon I was nearly blinded by the mischievous gleam in my host dad's eyes. My liver ached preemptively. I paced the house while my host dad lugged around ominous-looking plastic jugs and my host mom dusted under our feet. I felt the need to coach my host parents, the way you might coach your actual parents before bringing over your girlfriend for the first time. But of course, there was no point in worrying about anything: the Georgians would be Georgian, the Westerners would be Western, and my host mom would be my host mom, and I would be horrifically embarrassed at some point, and the night would get out of hand in the weirdest of ways. This was all beyond my control. There was nothing to do but pace around and hope that everyone else got drunk enough at the supra for me to steer the morning-after narrative in my favor.

Weird Beard was the first to show up, just shy of 4 PM. My host dad was already out on the piss somewhere else. The rest of the family gathered around on the porch to analyze (and psychoanalyze) Weird Beard in a language that neither he nor I quite understood.

"He's so handsome," said my host sister. "His beard is much better than your beard."
"Uh," said Weird Beard, "what did she say?"
"She said that you're handsome, and that your beard is better than my beard."
"Thanks," said Weird Beard.
"We want you to live here, not Kiti."
"They say that you should live here, not me."
"I like my host family a lot," said Weird Beard, "but thanks."
"Here," I said, tugging Weird Beard by the sleeve, "lemme show you my digs."
"Dang," he said, "how'd your Georgian get so good?"
"It's not," I said, "but if it is, it's because these people run my life."

My room was much the same as any other Georgian room, but that's not what Weird Beard had come to see. He wanted to see the shirt.

"Good God almighty. She makes you wear that?"
"I know, right?"
"Put it on for me."

Host dad came swaggering back home and summoned us menfolk to the living room. A Big Beautiful Babushka named Nino had showed up. A bottle of high octane cha-cha had appeared. The night had begun.

My host dad was tamada by default. He filled our shot glasses. He proposed a toast to mothers. I clinked glasses with him, with Weird Beard, with Nino. My host mom, meanwhile, was off scrubbing the toilet.

"Sheni deda, sheni deda, sheni deda," I said. "Your mother, your mother, your mother."

Weird Beard nudged me in the ribs.

"Dude," he said. "What the hell?"
"Do you have any idea what you just said?"
Nino's face had gone red. It looked like her eyes were about to pop out of her head and go flying across the living room. Finally, she could keep it in no longer. She busted up laughing.
"Kiti," she crowed. "Oh, Kiti! Sheni deda!"
She smacked the flat of her palm against the top of her balled-up fist, Georgian Sign Language for "fuck you."
"Seriously? Is that what I said?"
Weird Beard nodded.
"Huh. I had no idea," I said, "but I guess that makes sense. Yo mama. Same in English, no?"
We drank. Off to a good start.

There was a toast to international friendship. Obama, Saakashvili, megobrebi - gaumarjos! A toast to family. Ojakhis gaumarjos! A toast to the deceased.

"Gaumarjos!" I chimed.

Weird Beard nudged me in the ribs. They were starting to hurt, the ribs were.

"Dude," he said. "Think about what you just said."
"Dead people. Cheers!"
"Shit," I said.
"Nicely done."
"At this rate, I'm never going to get to be tamada."
"Give it a couple more toasts. You'll go rogue. I just know you will."

My host mom decided it was time for us to switch over to wine. So much the better, I figured. She snatched up the bottle of cha-cha, put it in a box and locked it away in a cupboard like it was the Lost Ark. My host dad left the room and returned with a couple Pepsi bottles full of wine. He filled our glasses. Then he proposed a toast to me. I raised my glass.

"To me, I guess."
"To Oaf Loaf," said Weird Beard.
"Kitis gaumarjos!" cried host dad.
We drank.
I glanced over at Weird Beard.
Weird Beard glanced over at me.
We sat there in silence for a minute or two while host dad topped us off.
"Hey," said Weird Beard. "Notice anything unusual about the wine?"
"Yes. You?"
"There isn't anything in it."
"You're right."
"It's grape juice."
"It is grape juice."
"You'd better call the Irishman," said Weird Beard.

"Yes, boyyyyy," said the Irishman. "What's the crack?"
"You still coming over?"
"Aye, reckon I'll be there in an heur, so I will."
"You might want to bring some party supplies."
"To a supra? Are ye mental?"
"The wine," I said. "It's grape juice."
"Aye, fer fook's sakes ... "

Pounding shot after shot of bootleg Welch's. Livers growing bored. Kidneys failing. One by one, the neighbors came tromping in. A digital camera was produced. Videos were taken of Weird Beard and I sitting around, self-conscious as all get-out. The Irishman arrived with a mysterious black bag that he stashed in my room. He sat down and chugged grape juice with us. It was immediately clear that nobody liked the Irishman.

My host sister pulled me aside.
"The Irishman is very bad," she said. "Very bad. He have a very bad character."
"He's been here ten minutes," I said.
"He is stupid and very bad."
"Fair enough."

My host mom mocked the Irishman's English, made a chipmunk face and went bwah-bwah-bwah-bwahhh. Weird Beard shook his head.
"Is your host mom making fun of the Irishman?"
"I believe she is."
"That's bullshit," he said. "Only we're allowed to make fun of the Irishman."

The Irishman had broken out in a sweat. He is a man who knows when he is unwelcome. He tried to ingratiate himself with the family the only way he knew how: by speaking lousy Georgian to my two year old host cousin.

"Batara bichi! Modi, modi!" he cooed. "Little boy! Come here!"
My host cousin shook his head, no. He wasn't going anywhere.
"Batara bichi!" scoffed my host mom later in the evening. "Your Irish friend is an idiot."

Leslie arrived and could immediately sense that things had gotten weirder than planned. Everyone marveled at her red hair. She had stolen the show and I could tell she wanted badly to leave. To her credit, she stayed until the bitter end. We knocked back grape juice, took frequent bathroom breaks, snuck off to the mysterious black bag for a nip or two, reconvened in the interrogation chamber for up-close videos and personal questions and mild humiliations of all sorts. It was nine PM at a Georgian supra and the four of us were stone sober. Under much host familial pressure, I finally caved and did a miserable breakdance routine on the living room floor. Thank God they got that on video. When I returned to the couch, Weird Beard was shaking his head with disgust.

"Enough is enough," he said. "Dinner's over. We've been polite. We've done our bit. Let's head into town and speak some English."
"You think we can pull it off?"
"I'll do the talking," he said. "Your host family actually likes me."
We looked over at the Irishman, who lowered his head.

Weird Beard got to work on my host dad, who was several sheets to the wind thanks to a secret stash that his best friend - a sixty year old geezer with the improbable name of Hooha - had smuggled in without sharing. My host dad agreed to summon a taxi. I went to my room, put on some cologne, took a little nip, ran into Weird Beard in the hallway.
"We're good," he said. "I made your dad promise not to tell your mom."
"Ten minutes. I'll give the signal."

It was very nearly the perfect crime. A cab pulled up in front of my house. My host mom was next door. The four of us bid the village adieu and piled into the cab.

"Tsalenjikha," said Weird Beard, "and step on it."
The cabby wouldn't budge. He was looking at something in his rear view mirror. Objects are closer than they appear, et cetera.
The back door shot open.
"Kiti! Where are you going?"
"Um," I said. "We. We are going. Going into town. Be back soon."
"Why? What's in town?"
"It was good," I said. "A good evening. Thank you for everything. But now. Together we will go. To town. Be back soon."
"They can go," she said. "You cannot go."
"But - "
"You cannot go."
"But - "
"But what?"
"But ... me katsi var," I squeaked. I am a man.
"You are going nowhere."
She grabbed my leg and started tugging.
"What the hell," I said.
"Drive," Weird Beard said to the cabby.
"Don't drive!" I shouted.
I was halfway out the door.
"Just go," said Weird Beard. "Now."
I could feel my shoe sliding off.
"Man up," Weird Beard said to me. "Say something!"
I could feel my leg sliding off.
"Mom," I said. "Mom."
She looked up.
"I'm 29 years old," I said. "I'm going into town with my friends."
"Okay," she said. "But you're in big trouble when you get back."
She slammed the door, very nearly on my leg.
"Are we ready?" asked the cabby. He was half-asleep by then.
I looked around and nodded.
"Yes. I do believe we're ready."

Unfortunately, no official minutes were kept for the night that followed. Our minds lapsed into time lapse mode. Weird Beard caught a cab home at some point. Leslie lived just down the road. The Irishman and I hiked eight kilometers in pitch darkness back to my house, ogled the constellations and waxed metaphysical along the way, slipped on cow patties times beyond number, got lost twice before realizing we weren't lost at all, finally slipped past the guard dog, tiptoed past my host mom's lair, and bolted ourselves in my room. We had a good laugh about it all and went to sleep. I woke up at eight the next morning.

"Jeesus," groaned the Irishman. "Where the fook am I?"
"My house," I said. I threw on my suit coat.
"What time is it?"
"What the fook are you doing?"
"Going to work," I said.
"How is that even fooking possible?"
"It just is," I said. "Get some sleep. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Want me to lock the door?"
The Irishman was already asleep.

An hour or so later, my host mom broke into my room to do God knows what. She found a half-naked Irishman in my bed. A certain scene from The Godfather springs to mind. My only regret is not having been there to witness it.

So there was that.

At any rate. Looks like I'm the only tamada left. So I'd like to use this final paragraph to propose a toast, if you don't mind. Here's to Georgia. Here's to America. Here's to David Bowie. Here's to The Wire. Here's to friendship. And here's to host mothers. Sheni dedas, gaumarjos!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Racecar is No Longer My Favorite Palindrome (or Is My Favorite Palindrome No Longer Racecar?)

"Happy host families are all alike; every unhappy host family is unhappy in its own way."
- Leo "Tolstoy" Garbleson (TLG Volunteer, Samegrelo Province, Class of 1972)
My host mom came home one afternoon with a great big plastic bag full of crap. I was reading on the porch. She reached into the bag and pulled out a teal green t-shirt. She unfurled it in front of me. I saw that it had racecars on the front. The hounds of dread bayed from the very depths of my bowels.

"So. What do you think?"
"It's interesting."
"Try it on."
"But - "
"But what?"

I looked around, searching all of spacetime for a zippered pocket to climb out through.

"Nothing," I said. "I'll go try it on."

I went to my room and paced around its perimeter. The wood creaked and groaned under my Pumas. I launched into a soliloquy of sorts, the kind of monologue between internal and external where you gesticulate and mouth foul words to yourself without making so much as a sound. The t-shirt lay spread out across my bed. It was at least a double-XL, the size of a national flag. Criminy, I mouthed, I'm not that fat!

I'm colorblind, so I've never fully experienced teal, but this shirt was the sort of color that violated even my stunted sense of sartorial taste. And like I said, there were fucking racecars on the front.

Finally, after a moment of meditation, in which I sat at the edge of my bed with my fingers massaging my forehead and my palm shielding my eyes from the absurdity of the life I'd so freely chosen for myself, I unbuttoned the dress shirt I'd worn to work, navigating the sleeve somewhat skillfully over the bazooka of a cast entombing my left arm, and I put on the racecar shirt. Then I took my paisley patterned sling and slung it over my neck, stuck my busted arm through the sling. I walked over to the mirror. I wanted to beat the shit out of my own reflection. I looked like some sort of white trash time-traveling trainwreck. I saw that there was a price tag stuck to the front of the shirt. Fifteen lari. I wasn't sure whether that meant the shirt was a bargain or an egregious waste of money that would've been better spent on any salable object in the known universe. Pretty sure the latter, seeing how we'd all been eating cucumbers for a month. Either way, I thought I'd play it safe and leave the price tag on.

I trudged out to the porch, shamefaced as a shaven dog. My host mom clapped her hands. My host sister nodded approvingly. My host brother sat motionless with his arms crossed; he knew the score. I did a little pirouette, then I went back to my room, removed the shirt, and locked myself in with Tolstoy for the remainder of the evening.

You'd think that would've been the end of it, but the next morning, my host mom refused to let me go to school until I'd changed out of what I was wearing and put on the shirt. I contended that it was cold - and indeed it was - but in the end, I was badgered into wearing it as an undershirt. Later, in the teacher's lounge, my host mom got me to lift up my sweater so that seven fluorescent yellow racecars could come zooming out from my torso, and the old ladies applauded. What a good host mother you have, she buys you t-shirts with racecars on the front, et cetera.

As the weeks walked by and the northern hemisphere warmed, it became harder and harder for me to find a convincing excuse to not be wearing the shirt at all times, short of coming out and telling my host mom directly that I hated it because it made me look like a child. In retrospect, that is precisely the tact I ought to have taken. Instead, I remained polite, lowered my head, hemmed and hawed and mumbled whenever the shirt came up. Why aren't you wearing your shirt? I wore it yesterday. You wear the same thing every day all the time! But it's not clean? None of your clothes are clean! I don't like racecars? You watch auto racing every day with your brother! (This latter was true, but only because, as far as Georgian satellite TV went, auto racing was marginally preferable to the Turkmenistani Comedy Hour.)

Things finally came to a head towards the ass-end of my first semester. A friend of mine in the next town over was having her students put on a choral concert. It was something of a farewell concert, too, because she was leaving Georgia a couple weeks after. In short, it was a formal occasion. I put on a dress shirt, a tie, and my best suit coat (which also happens to be my worst suit coat). I'd ironed some slacks the night before by stacking a row of books across them and leaving them atop the Soviet-era upright piano. The next afternoon, on my way out the door, I bumped into my host mom coming home from school.

"You are going to the concert?"
"Yes, I'm going to the concert. See you later!"
"Wait," she said. "Where's your shirt?"
I tugged at my collar.
"No," she said, "your shirt."
"I'm wearing two of them."
A standoff, so it was.
"You know the shirt," she said. "You know, the shirt."
I nodded.
"I know the shirt."
"So why aren't you wearing it?"
I said nothing.
"Go put it on," she said.
"It's a concert," I said. "Suit. Tie. Pants."
"I'm already late. I've got to go."

I dribbled forward and she boxed out the lane. Basketball fundamentals. I juked left. She mirror juked right. The shirt, the shirt, the shirt. This went on for an unbelievably long time.

Imagine for a moment a 29 year old man showing up to a choir concert in a XXXL teal green t-shirt with racecars zipping across the front. I wasn't having it. And my host mom, all of 35, wasn't having it from her end, either. Like I said: it was a standoff, so it was. I would be inclined to say that I prevailed in the end, except that as I was making my way down the stairs, I realized that I had no idea what time the marshrutka into town came by. So I was thrust back into the role of the dependent, racecar-t-shirt-wearing host child.

"Uh, hey, mom," I said over my shoulder. "When's the next marshrutka?"
"3:30," she murmured.

A glance at my watch: it was 2:30. The concert was at five. Determined not to show up a sweaty, bedraggled mess, I opted not to walk the eight kilometers into town and sat down instead with my host brother in the living room and watched auto racing for about a half hour.

When I went out to the front lawn to catch the marshrutka, my host mom tagged along. 3:30 came and went. No marshrutka.

"Say, Levani," she called to a neighbor. "When is the last marshrutka into town?"
"Same as it ever was," said the neighbor. "2:30."
"Oops," said my host mom. "You'd better start walking."

Suffice it to say, I missed the concert.

I don't mean to slag off on my Georgian host family more than I ought to. Really, I thought they were wonderful people. If nothing else, they kept me alive for ten months, despite my best efforts. But to quote Garbleson (1972), "every unhappy host family is unhappy in its own way." And there were times in which I was very unhappy, indeed.

Tragically, I do not have any pictures of the t-shirt, or of myself wearing the t-shirt. If I recall correctly, I included the t-shirt in my outgoing trash the very night of the concert I missed. I was in a foul mood. Waste not, want not, I know; but also true: waste if you want not. More to the point: I don't have many pictures of anything from Georgia, because someone in my host family ransacked my room, found my camera, used it, destroyed it, and returned it to my desk drawer as though nothing had happened - and that was well before any of this had happened.

So there was that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St. Michelin

For a long time I used to go to bed early ... If nothing else, ten months in a Georgian village is a good way to catch up on one's reading, and one's sleep.

I was lying in bed around nine PM, trying to read Proust. My host family was outside, being loud for the sake of being loud, on a warm-ish evening in early spring. It would be easy to say here, from the vantage point of The Reader, that I, as a cultural ambassador, should've been out there in the lawn being loud with the fam instead of locking myself away in my room with a book, but my days by then were a hyper-social grind, surrounded by humanoids at all times, contorting my face into a smile as my every little quirk (of which there are many) was dissected by people who otherwise knew nothing about me, all in a grammatically taxing backwoods Transcaucasian dialect, to boot. For sanity's sake, it was necessary to hide out in my room once in a while. It is true that for a long time I used to go to bed early.

During the day, I did my job with patience and grace, I think. I taught my classes. I helped my host sister with her English and her German, even her Mandarin Chinese. I engineered bizarre third world assault weapons with my host brother and we tested them out on our host cousin, with satisfactory results. I complimented the hell out of my host mother's potato-and-cucumber cooking and watched the boob tube with host dad until my brainstuff came bleeding out both ears. But I always made sure that the nights were my own. Every moment I spent alone was sacred to me. And no matter how much sleep I got, sleep was sacred, too. I could dream there. I could've stayed in bed forever. I tried to.

For a long time ... for a long time ... I read until my eyes crossed and the words on the page congealed into an ink-black clot. I didn't read very far. I put the book down, walked across the room to switch off the lights, and flopped down in bed. ... I used to go to bed early ... 

Ten minutes later, I was awakened by the pick-pock of pebbles pitched up against my window. Then, the familiar cry:

Kiti! Ki-ti! Ki-tiiiii!

I had learned to shake off host parental summonses by feigning some sort of coma, but I knew game-theory-wise that on the night in question, the annoyance of confronting my host mom head-on would amount to marginally less net annoyance than lying awake while she threw pebbles at my window for the better part of an hour. In my boxers, then, I unbolted my window and, like a minor league pope, raised my arm in salutation and gave my host family my blessing.

"Huh?" I said.
"Kiti," host mom barked, "let's go!"
"Get down here! Let's go!"
"Where are we going?"
"Will you just get down here so we can go?"
"But," I objected, "I don't know where we're going!"
"We're going to see the [Georgian word I was not familiar with at the time]!"
"What's a [Georgian word]?"
"You'll see when we get there! Let's go!"
"But I want to sleep and I don't have any clothes on and I don't know where we're going and I don't know what a [GW] is!"
A host maternal snort.
"Just come down here! You'll see!"

There was a time, during my second of four puberties, when I full-throatedly embraced the Nietzschean philosophy of yea-saying, which I took rather too literally to mean that I should say yea to each and every odd little invitation thrown my way. It wasn't until my third of four puberties that I realized how unsustainable a principle this was when put into practice, both because it resulted in a lot of undeserved hangovers, and because, when living abroad, one receives a lot of invitations to do a lot of things, and saying yes to all of them leads to madness or, much worse, to abject boredom. By now, in the thick of my fourth puberty, I have abandoned Nietzschean yea-saying altogether, which doesn't at all make me a nay-sayer: I simply say "maybe" a lot, up until the point that someone with as many balls as my host mom finally badgers me into to mumbling a forlorn yeah, I guess.

I put on my pants, hosed myself down with Axe® Body Spray. (Dark Temptation™, in case you're curious.) I returned to the window. It was impossible to tell, engaged in a tense trans-fenestral shouting match with my host mom, what exactly a [GW] could mean for my evening. In all likelihood, it would amount to another rusty link in a very long chain of underwhelming rural Georgian experiences. But there was a chance it could turn out to be one of the best nights of my life. That's how Georgia works, if it can be said to work at all. All or nothing, but more than likely, nothing at all.

Not yet abandoning sleep, not yet abandoning Proust, I tried to paint my host mom into a linguistic corner.

"What's a [GW] like? Is it big, small, good, bad, hot, cold?"
"You'll see when we get there! But we have to go now!"

I threw up my hands.

"Okay. Why are we going to see the [GW]? Is there a why, at least?"
"Because," she said, "it is a Georgian holiday!"

I still had no idea what a [GW] was, but it was at least a something imbued with some kind of cultural significance, so it was the kind of something I was obligated to go see, something ceremonial and traditional and uniquely Georgian, and therefore inescapable.

"Alright, ma. One second," I said. "Pisi minda."
I gotta pee.

I went to the bathroom to take a whiz and as I shook everything out the nicotine patch on my right bicep slipped off and fell into the toilet.

"Shit," I said to myself. "No sense in saving that one."

I flushed it down.

Then my phone blew up. I didn't even have to look at the damned thing to know that it was The Irishman.

"Yes boyyyyy," he said. "What's the crack?"
"I'm about to go do something underwhelming with my host family," I said.
"Aye, what is it then?"
"I have no idea. Just know that it's going to be underwhelming, probably."
"Underwhelming, so it is? Aye, keep me posted, then."
"I know how you love that underwhelming shit."
"Aye, it's Georgia, so it is. What else is there?" 

I went downstairs and out to the lawn and my host mom and I – along with my two host cousins and my host aunt – went sauntering off down the dark-ass gravel road together. 

"Do you know who St. Mary is?" asked my host mom.
"Mary? Host Mother of God?"
"Do you have her in America?"
"Yes," I said.    
"Tell me who she is, then."
"She had a baby."
"Who was her baby?"
"Jesusi," I guessed.
"Who's that?"
"I don't know how to say 'Jesus' in Georgian."
"Forget it."

The wonderfully-named Iago came ambling up the road towards us. He and I shook hands.
"Iago," I said. "How are you?"
"I have a terrible hangover."
"Shouldn't have drank so much without me," I said.
We exchanged a fistpound of sorts, then proceeded together towards the traditional Georgian whatever-it-was in the distance.

The stench grew stronger and stronger. As we approached, I could make out a flickering, dancing light splashing up against a graystone wall. My host mom grabbed me by the wrist – the one I'd broken – and poked me in the ribs.

"See!" she cried. "See!"
"What is it?"
I saw her eyes roll in the darkness.
"You don't know? It's a [GW]! Idiot."

Ah, yes. A fire. I nodded, mouthed the word to myself, repeated it, was surprised I hadn't learned it before, decided I'd remember it. Could be useful. A fire.

As we drew nearer to the shallow blaze, I could make out the slanted silhouettes of the village winos embossed by the flames and then yes, what I'd perhaps known it would be all along. It was a tire fire in a back alley. A bunch of crap thrown into the center of a tire. And that crap was set on fire. So it was. 

"How beautiful!" cried my host mom. "Do you like it?"
"Yes," I said numbly, but did not elaborate.
"This is Georgian tradition," she said. "Do you have this tradition in America?"
"Some people do."

We watched the tire melt. I detached myself from my host mom, aligned myself with the winos, asked them how they were doing. Not surprisingly, they all had hangovers. A wino asked me for a cigarette and I told him I didn't have any. This surprised him. It surprised me. We stood there in a circle, mostly silently, watching the tire fire die. Occasionally, a wino would rustle up the flames with a stick, or throw in a stray branch. But the fire was done for. We'd just arrived; we'd be going home soon. And then the little kids started throwing in plastic bags, candy wrappers, anything inorganic they could find to keep the fire alive. And the melting plastic and the smoldering rubber and the crunchy crap of the modern world twisted together into a nasty black snake and the wind kicked up and blew it everywhere. And I turned away and shielded my face and, for the first time in recent memory, I coughed a long, clean, healthy cough.

Ode to an Expired Expat

let me lose a tooth in Georgia
let me lose a limb in Libya
a finger here, a toenail there
let me lose my hair in America

let me lose my mind in China
let me lose all my money at the bar
let me lose my cat and have it come back
let me forget I've lost anything at all

let me lose my life somewhere or other
the where or when or why doesn't matter
but whenever I lose it, let them scatter
my ashes all around everywhere

to sink into the sea
or seep into the soil
to rise into the air
in any case, to sleep

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Summer Wind (or How I Broke My Wrist in Georgia)

I reckon I would've pulled it off gracefully enough at a younger, shorter, nimbler age. My instincts told me that it was easy from here on out, pretty much inevitable: simply a matter of pivoting on my left foot by way of setting up a blistering volley into the upper 90 with my right. Instead, the world shot out from under me and I flew upwards and then backwards at such an angle and with such velocity that the control tower in my brain abandoned all hope of coaxing the rest of my body into a smooth landing. Mayday. I sat down on my left wrist.

There may or may not have been an audible snap. There was not, at first, any pain whatsoever. I remember holding my hand up in front of my face and observing, rather calmly, that it looked more like a foot. 

Some of my students had gathered around to gawk. A few of them fought back vomit; the others shielded their eyes and turned away. My host brother, crying, ran off to fetch mom. One of the teenagers extended his hand, offering some sort of assistance, and I was disoriented enough to take it; he made as if to snap the joint back in place and I lashed out at him like a wolf mother. He backed up a couple paces.

I am not a radiology tech, though my dad once was. Some trivia, there. I knew that I had broken my wrist very badly. No bones were sticking out in any literal sense, but not for lack of trying. An older high school student – incidentally, the only kid in the village with frosted tips – approached with a rectangular chunk of cardboard that he'd scraped up off the ground. With one of his own shoelaces, he rigged up something to keep my arm level and blood-imbued until the ambulance came. I asked him what his name was. Giorgi, he said. No surprise there. Thank you, Giorgi, I said. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Then I asked when the ambulance was coming.

Word travels much faster than ambulances in the Georgian countryside. The whole village had turned out to take in the spectacle of the vulnerable American. I was slumped over on the asphalt in a pool of anxious sweat with my arm propped up in a rudimentary cardboard splint, cursing in the Queen's whenever the pain flared up, making gallows amputation jokes in Georgian whenever the pain ebbed away. These quips were my first attempt at skirting the fringes of something I really preferred not to think about, not then or hopefully ever again: Georgian healthcare. In America, the situation would've been clear-cut: I'd get my wrist fixed by a professional and tumble into debt for the rest of my life. In Georgia, it was possible that I'd lose an arm for free.

My host brother returned with the rest of my host family. He darted down an alley behind the school, where he dissolved into a puddle of tears. Earlier in the day - the first real day of spring - he'd called me fat. So I'd tromped off to my room. I returned sporting a bootleg Chinese Nike t-shirt-and-shorts ensemble. "What the fuck," my host brother said - who teaches them this stuff? "I'm fat," I said, "so I'm going running." He wanted to come with, so we went on a two mile jaunt up into the mountains. Then we trotted down to the playground to do some pull-ups. Then we played soccer for four hours. Then I smashed my wrist to bits.

My half-tight host dad peeked over the heads in front of him, caught a glimpse of my arm, and let fly a traditional Georgian aüf! My host mom slashed through the crowd like a battleship and set about scolding me for inhabiting the body of the idiot that I am.

It was twenty minutes before the ambulance showed up: a first edition VW hippie van, scrap metal gray, rusted out, with red crosses spray painted on the sides. The paramedics pushed through the crowd, examined my wrist and the Giorgi MacGyver splint job, and decided it was good enough for the time being. Then they told me to get up. It was evident from the beginning that I was a liability. Nobody wanted to touch me. I nodded toward frosted-tips Giorgi, who helped me to my feet, and with the half-whimper/half-laugh that sometimes accompanies incomprehensible pain (a noise my host mother found unmanly and therefore amusing) I began to hobble towards the ambulance. Nobody helped me inside, so I climbed in and found a seat in the back by the window.

It was a sunny, dusty day in April. I've watched too many Vietnam movies. The way I remember it, I was in the back of a chopper, tall grass tussling in a propeller-propelled gale, smoke flares hotboxing the heavens, generations of rice farmers gathered round to watch their wounded white-skinned hero spirited away in the bowels of a strange metal bird, bleeding generously from head and torso, gritting his teeth (also basted with blood) in order to flash a dogged American smile and a thumbs up out the window as …

I leapt to my feet. A pain in my ass. I jumped up and clunked my arm against the wall. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! I turned around and saw that my pants were down, and that there was a paramedic kneeled behind me with a syringe squirting clear liquid all over the ass of my chaps. 

"You could've asked first," I said. I stuck my ass out. They injected something into my left buttcheek.

Nothing happened. This was not morphine. My host mom climbed into the ambulance. She would not help matters much. The paramedics slid the side door shut behind them. The driver tossed his cigarette and pulled himself up behind the wheel. I steeled myself for my long-awaited Vietnam-era smile and thumbs up scene. The engine wouldn't start.

The engine wouldn't start for a good long while. Eventually, the driver gestured for Jgali's biggest and brawniest to gather behind the ambulance and give it a push towards town. I halfway expected us to get pushed all the way into town until the engine sputtered to life a click or two down the road. I winced a smile and flashed my dogged American thumbs up out the window. Nobody seemed to notice.

The nearest hospital was in Tsalenjikha: ten minutes by bus, twenty by ambulance. A pair of nurses ushered me into an office of sorts. I sat down. They asked me if I wanted anything and I didn't know the Georgian for "the strongest opiate Soviet Russia has to offer," so I said "water" instead. I drank glass after glass of water while the doctors copied the text of my passport by hand into a notebook. After a while, they pulled my pants down and injected me with more antibiotics. I couldn't be sure, but it seemed like my fingers were turning blue. The doctors finally turned their attention to my wrist, gave it a cursory glance, then left the room together. On their way out, I saw the one say something to the other and make a chopping gesture at her left elbow. The doors to the ER swung shut behind them. 

"I'd like to talk to my boss," I told my host mom.

"Yes, Kiti," she said, over the phone, "what ees problem?"
"I broke my wrist," I said. "I was playing soccer. Or football."
"You were drinking?"
"Then ees no problem. Health care cover this problem."
"Great. In the meantime," I said, "I want you to ask these people what exactly it is that they're about to do to me."

When the doctors returned ten minutes later, I was given to understand that they were probably not about to chop my arm off, but that their little hospital in Tsalenjikha was in no way equipped to treat an injury of such magnitude. They would give me a rentgen – an x-ray – and send me on down to Zugdidi. A load off their shoulders. A load off my mind. Zugdidi was a city of sorts. Zugdidi was developed, within reason. There was a kebab stand in Zugdidi, run by a real live Turkish dude. A whole street of shady 24-hour casinos managed by Armenian pimps. And where there are Armenian pimps, there are doctors.

A bald guy in a white lab coat – I could've sworn I'd seen him mopping the lobby earlier – came in some time later and told me to follow him. We were not headed for a lab or an office. He led me outside. We walked a couple blocks down a pothole-pocked gravel alleyway until we arrived at a slipshod old barn. He struggled with the padlock, knocked it open eventually. We went inside. He flipped on the lightbulb. A dirt floor covered in rat droppings. In the corner, an x-ray machine.

When the film had developed some 45 minutes later – it was dark out by then – I was finally told what I'd known all along: that my wrist was broken and that I'd need to go to the hospital. The director of my school had shown up (likely to cover her own ass) and the three of us - the director, my host mom, and I - piled into her Georgian Geo Metro. 

But we didn't go anywhere. For half an hour, I sat in the backseat while my director and my host mom argued with each other. My director, apparently, was not confident enough in her driving abilities to shuttle me the thirty minute straight shot to Zugdidi. My host mom offered to pay for gas. (In retrospect, the cost of benzin, I imagine, was the sticking point.) My director said no, driving wasn't an option, maybe they should just call for an ambulance. This went on for a while. I was sitting with my forehead pressed against the glass, miserable to the n-th degree of f-bomb. I was starting to drift into the third person.

After an hour of talking it out in the car, my director hit upon an idea. She remembered that another foreign teacher lived just across the street; maybe they could go get her and bring her out and she would know what to do. My host mom duly got out of the car and walked across the street. She talked to a shopkeeper for ten minutes, much gesticulating and laughter, then wandered down the road to a rusted metal gate, opened the gate, and stepped into the driveway. A guard mutt went crazy. A middle-aged woman emerged from the house. She and my host mom chatted for a bit. My host mom came back. 

"The foreigner is asleep."

My director called for an ambulance. We waited in the dark. I was no longer talking to anybody. I clamped my eyes shut and pretended to be asleep, or dead.

The ambulance took an hour to arrive. But it was a real ambulance. I was helped out of the car by real doctors. An old man, an old woman. I took one look at them and knew that they were professionals and guessed that they were married, and I was right about both. The old woman handed me a bottle of water. I guzzled. The old man checked out my wrist and raised both brows and asked me if I was in pain. I nodded vigorously. He asked me if I wanted medicine. Again with the vigorous nodding. A syringe was produced, was flicked, and a shimmering arc of clear fluid was ejaculated up into the air between the doctor and me. 

After the opiated ambulance ride, the hospital was a night terror. Like the music video for "Knives Out" by Radiohead, if you've seen that. Flickering fluorescent lights, everything metallic blue or concrete gray, or pitch black when the lights crapped out, all manner of medical procedures taking place side-by-side at a breakneck broken neck pace. I was shown to a bench between two other benches. From the sounds of things, the guy to the right of me was having his intestines removed, link by link. The woman to my left was schizophrenic or worse. A busted wrist wasn't so bad at all, certainly not in the state I was in. But then, it is easy to look on the bright side on morphine.

A tall, gray-scalped doctor with witty little creases under his eyes came in and shook my functioning hand. He explained what was about to go down. 

"We fix you arm," he said.
"You won't be cutting anything off?" I asked.
"No," he chuckled. "No cutting. You only go to sleep."

Sleep I could handle. I lay back in my cot with two entirely different kinds of screaming going on in my left and right ears. Nothing mattered terribly much. They plugged me into an IV. 

"This," the doctor said, flicking the baggy dangling over my head, "make you sleep."

I laid there a moment or two and watched the doctor as he massaged a roll of gauze into a tray of gray slime, setting up shop next to my wounded paw.

"Er," I said, "I'm not ready for that yet. I'm still awake."
"It okay," he said. "Soon you sleep, Kiti. Very soon you sleep."

He began to toy around with my arm.

"Oof. Ugh. Aüf! Er. I just don't think I can be awake for this, doc. I'm on some big drugs already, believe me, I understand that, but I'm pretty sure what you're about to do to me ... it's still gonna ... I mean ... I ... "

I sat bolt upright in bed. Something had catapulted me outside of time and space and misery. My wrist belonged to somebody else.

"There it is," I said. "There it is. I tell you, doc. Whatever this stuff is ... whatever it is ... I tell you what ... you gotta market this shiz ... the kids back home ... you'll make ... I promise you'll make a fuggin' mmmint."

My head hit the pillow.

An existential second or two later, I was awake again, a wet heap of gauze molded to my left arm.

"How'd you do that?" I asked.
"Is easy," said the doctor. He snipped off the last wrap of tape with a pair of office scissors. "I am doctor."

The day I broke my wrist was the first day of the year you could really go outside. Summer was coming, with its promise of heat and sun and lukewarm beer and lukewarmer women, subpar Georgian beaches, and three months of fuck-all to do. But it was this summer that I was to serve out my penance for having never once broken a bone in my youth, for having never once missed out on a childhood summer. For having never showered with a cast. For having never sat idly poolside reading The Boxcar Children #72 while everyone else cannonballed their asses off. This summer would be my Rear Window summer. I'd sit and watch the cows go by, watch my host aunt pin the clothes up on the line, watch my host cousin get spanked pale-assed; it was the summer I'd learn how to work a Kindle one-handed, among other things …
A month later, the month of May, I went back to get my first cast removed, presumably to get my second cast installed. I was reunited with the doctor who'd done the original cast job. I offered him a fistpound with my operational hand and he received it, though he didn't blow it up. He cut free the cast and I was overwhelmed at first by the stench and then by the withered t-rexian appearance of my left arm. He sent me to the radiologist's lair to get an x-ray.  

The radiologist returned a couple minutes later with the good news. In English, no less.

"You are not needing cast," he said, holding the x-ray up for my approval. "Is healthy. Is fine. Are young, so excellent progress. You leave here today. You are not needing cast."

This, I knew, was false. It had been a month since my wrist had been smashed. 

I presented the x-ray, along with my translation of the radiologist's verdict, to my doctor.

He donned his bifocals and glanced at the x-ray, turned it from side to side. 

"Is the bull shit," he said. "You need the new cast."
I shrugged.

"I thought so," I said, "but it was a little weird. The radiologist said – "
"Yes," the doctor nodded. "I know radiologist. He belong in hospital. He is doctor, but have qualities of mental patient. He have something schizophrenia."

[here, the blog post you are reading cuts abruptly to a "closing credits" sequence in which our protagonist and pseudo-hero is observed from slightly above and directly behind, reclined in a plastic beach chair, cocktail in one hand, 39 pounds of Georgian plaster wrapped around the other, silhouetted against the Black Sea at dusk, and "The Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra swells into the foreground and crescendos until the sweetness of the moment becomes almost unbearable – the director of the scene pours himself a nightcap and sits and drinks and strokes his whiskered chin as he watches and waits and finally decides to allow the full two minutes and 53 seconds of the original Concord Records recording to blow themselves decrescendoing softly to sleep]