Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's all about who?

"I know how to make a burger 50 different ways." His eyebrows raise, a smile starts at its corners. If this Dutchman thinks that America makes the best burgers, and if it’s true I am an American, then my statement is an agreeing…

It is quite possible to make a burger in over 50 incarnations. Think of how many ways you've had one.  Barbequin’ is an American right of passage. The two most life changing burgers I've been introduced to are the Squirrel Burger and the Burns Burger. The Squirrel Burger is from a bar in Corvallis Oregon. Consisting of a beef party, and a slice of ham cooked on the griddle with a fried egg on top. I ate three of them one night, maybe four, let’s go with four for the sake of a good story. The other breakthrough in burger making for me was the Burns Burger; consisting of ground beef mixed by hand with spices, mostly garlic. In my younger years, we just slapped a Costco death disk on the grill – propane generally. The evolution of a man's keen ability is gradual, and learning the flavor benefit of fire over propane is pivotal in that evolution; Burns was pivotal to mine. How about donuts for buns? Or two grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches for buns? Blend some ground bacon with the beef, put cubes of cheese in the beef, or In-N-Out's animal style – possibilities! Though as the great Ron Johnson put it, "You can put ketchup or lettuce and tomato on it if you want, I don't really care what you do." The beef is all that matters; that, consistency, and flame.

The Dutchman's skepticism from my earlier statements regarding California's superior beer, wine, and weed had been forgotten after all the burger talk. He had a right to skepticism considering his origins where French wine, Amsterdam weed, and Belgium beer are rooted in time. California has agricultural superiority, its viniculture and brew-master embezzlement from the old world and its unquenchable desire for cannabis has driven its own right to arrogance. I told him he'll have to come taste it to believe. Plus, I'll make him a burger.

Our Greek friend had other interests to discuss, mostly linguistics. Apparently English is plastic; a statement to be condescending toward a language lacking original roots, being fabricated from other ancient languages such as Latin, Greek, and Germanic tongues. She apologized to me after saying it, fearing the weight of such a heavy defamation would be more than I would stand for; her words having cut me like a knife. The insult was completely lost on me though. Having no pride at all in my birth or origins, language is a tool to me not an identification. Plus I have the superiority of bearing mastery of the world language -- plastic origins or not. She spoke seven languages, was a journalist, and was drunk. Her middle age and "worldliness” gave her a certain attractiveness. Her drunkenness and desire to interrupt everyone and change the subject according to her will...well, that made her the hottest woman imaginable. The Dutchman was attempting to fly up her dress, with my exhaustion from hiking ancient ruins and talking through the night at the protest gave me a break from flirting. Thus leading me to be a bystander to his attempts and her rejections. Though the focus was on me, as rightly it should.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Some days you need champagne.  The fucker would only serve me the little bottle.  I asked him twice for the big one, thinking he just didn't understand; he cut-me-off before I sat down.  Innocently enough, I had come to Munich for beer houses; I found one.  I found it distasteful, essentially after the daytime crowds, they're just nightclubs.  My search turned on a dime and I was asking some Metalheads in front of RAM, a Metal bar, where to find a corner store.  I wanted tobacco, snuff in particular; snuff is not chew, in Germany snuff is blown up the nose like cocaine.  It enters the blood through the nasal passage and burns like a motherfucker.  My search took longer than I wanted due to bad directions.  When I got back to the Metal bar – because these were my kind of people – I found out the directions were useless because they thought I said Porn store.  We had a good laugh and a round of snuff – both nostrils, you have to stay balanced.  I go into the bar an order a whiskey, cheap.  They don't have "well" drinks in Europe, if you want the cheap stuff you have to specify, American bar culture is more evolved.  He pours me a double, no ice.  When I order another he suggests Schnapps.  I tell him I hate Schnapps' peppermint flavor.  Apparently that's an American thing, this is straight Schnapps, and it’s pure.  Later, he pours another type that was spicy.

I notice the couple sitting at the corner of the bar gesturing at their hot blonde friend to talk to me.  We're sitting next to each other and had been casually bumping one another.  I initiate; she reciprocates.  After a while she says her English is poor and she wishes she could express herself fully to me.  She desires a deeper conversation than small talk.  I ask her for examples; art, history, culture, politics, Metal.  I love her.  I tell her to just speak to me in German.  She does, passionately.  Occasionally her voice rises, speaking in a rush, she leans in, and I’m beaming.  Afterward, I feel like smoking a cigarette.  She is fixed on me and no one else in the room.  I ask if in anything she said; if it may have involved kissing me.  She says no, coyly.  Another round of Schnapps; the bartender is encouraging me, appreciating the fanny pack traveler.  He pours tall drinks, many free.  This isn't one of those measure-your-shots-out establishments.  Metal has been blaring over the noise of the bar room the entire time.  I love Metal; so does she.  It gets to the point between us when she talks about my impermanence, my transience, my leaving.  I tell her plainly (sadly it likely came off like a rehearsed line) that I'm searching for something, perhaps something to make me stay, perhaps someone.  She blushes but still sees it as a line, my hook, yet it wasn't.  I'm in love with this Metal goddess.

The liquor and beer make everything else obscure.  I time travel to 5:00 AM; I'm asleep on the street again.  I hoof-it to my Hostel and sleep until 3 o’clock; luckily they didn't kick me out.  I paid for the bed; at least I used some of it.  This brings me to the champagne.  I like to think that we had kissed passionately, spoke of our future together, and laid on a blanket on a grassy hill.  More likely, I just threw up on myself and she left; it’s impossible to say.  Something happened, but time travelling is a bitch, especially when you want to know what happened to the one.  My head is pounding; my body is covered in weight that makes everything an effort.  I sweat in the Bavarian heat.  I drink champagne.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm in Berlin, but that's not what this post is about.

Working abroad from California, while traveling in Europe, is a pain in the ass. Not because of the obvious working while on holiday issue; quite the contrary. The inclusion of a few hours of work every few days is a welcomed grounding for any Fanny Trekker, giving one's life a brief, albeit fleeting feeling of importance. The problem is timing.

The 9-5 grind on the American west coast occurs in most of Europe between 5-1 at night. Getting started at 5 PM doesn't pose many troubles, except libraries and internet caf├ęs tend to be closing. The issue lies in California, where no one gets started with any real work until 11 AM. One is hard pressed to find anyone working first thing in the morning. The first few hours are spent bullshitting with coworkers, going for some coffee, online banking, watching bids on eBay, returning emails, going to meetings, making plans for the rest of the day, and even doing personal errands or doctor appointments. No one actually works before 11 AM, and then they start just in time for lunch. Now, lunch is rarely 30 minutes, it can last an hour or more. So basically, one is left with 2 PM on, for any work to get done. But before 5 PM hits, people are ducking out early, be it for the kid’s soccer game, cheerleader practice, running to the bank or post office, or picking up an anniversary gift; anything to not spend the full 8 hours every day in the office.

Well what are we left with? Two hours. Two hours to rapidly cram a respectful amount of work into our jobs. But my two hours are near midnight when I'm drunk and high. Try sounding professional after cruising the beer houses of Germany all day or after just getting out of a coffee shop in Amsterdam, all while having to talk on a static riddled overseas telephone line, nearly yelling to be heard. I received a technical email one night filled with jargon that normally would be simple for me to understand. The stakes go up when it’s a pressing issue and I’m 4 hours into the night. I’m forced to put it off while knowing I won't have another chance until the following evening. Then there’s the inevitability of just blocking out the time. Well, at least if I want to keep some semblance of professionalism intact. I've also got that skeptical old man and his son in Norway to prove wrong.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Underneath a bridge...

"Do you see that guy under the bridge?" "Where?" "Under the bridge, he's drinking and eating a sandwich." "Oh yeah...I saw him in the store, I didn't think he was a bum." I'm under a bridge like a troll drinking beer and making salami and cheese sandwiches. The passengers on the cruise ship are 100 yards away and we can make each other out clear enough. They're on the deck drinking from the adjacent bar. They're wearing collared shits. I drink my cheap Tuborg pilsner and make sandwiches as cars pass overhead; a nice umbrella for a traveler who won't pay the 500 kroner to have a meal indoors ($50). I savor the beer, exchanging glances with the men 50 feet up the boat decks. Not quite making eye contact, but there ain't much to look at in this fjord. The beautiful scenery is enough to drive a man under a bridge. It’s legal to drink outside but the rain pushes you to shelter. I likely make as much money as any of them, but a Fanny Trekker travels light, and lives meagerly. Not that it would matter to them. I'm under a bridge, they're on a cruise ship. The mistake of coming here is huge, another tourist trap town, so much so that they barely have a bar. I had felt good about avoiding Stavanger, Norway's 4th largest city, and a tourist town in its own right. At least they may have had something real. My second beer goes down well, a nice dressing for the carton of wine finished on the train. Totally at a loss for why anyone would visit Northern California -- the fools. I find reality at the bottom of a bottle, but not all the time, normally I only find a hangover. Weeks into a drunk, it’s normally just a dull sense of touch though. Like someone took a knife and ground it against the curb until it looks the part, but can’t cut it. Cracking another beer, thinking about time; it isn't linear, or circular, or directionless, or polar. What then? I think time is nothing. We sit under a bridge alone, around a Christmas tree with family, in a lecture hall with fellow students, in a court room being judged. Always the same mistreatment of reality, disregard for freedom, ignorance of slavery. Not loneliness from being alone, more from insignificance in a world of war, wealth, fighting, fucking. Simply taking pleasure in being alive and enjoying nothing, being nothing, having nothing, doing whatever it takes to do nothing. It isn’t easy. Men have died working toward it; persecuted to the end of their days for rejecting the 2.5 kids and the home on the hill. Why not just drink, have ample sexual partners available – even if not used. We never adjust fully to the slavery within this Brave New World. We can medicate with our drugs, checking out with the prescribed pop-culture. The rain will still come down, the snow will block the roads, and beer will light the way into fellowship. Believing in nothing, and taking advantage of the beauty of nothing, we push on. As I devour my sandwich like a ferocious lion, I consider the impacts of nothing, thinking of the deliciousness of not caring about anything but good and honest awesome. I pound a beer. My hand goes "ting".

Monday, May 30, 2011

How did I get into the back of an ambulance?

"Why am I in an ambulance?" "You were passed out in the street unconscious." "Oh, I'm just drunk." "We're taking you to the hospital." "Why? I'm fine really." "Because you're drunk and we couldn't get you to regain consciousness." "But, why the hospital? I'm alright now." "Look, it’s free; you can sleep it off there." "Awesome." "Yeah, we call it socialism."

Well, this is a first. I awake from a night in a free bed at a local hospital. Why did I drink so much? I couldn't really tell you. Some days my luck is good with the first few people I meet, other times I wander the streets consuming alcohol. It was the wine. I drank a box on the train, then a six pack under a bridge. I felt the urge to flee Flam as soon as I arrived. I hitchhiked to Bergen. Another tourist town but at least it might have some bars. It did. I came to see the mountainous Fjords. Driven by the delusion they might impress me. They weren't as great as California, deterrent, but not as good. Some Russian women who literally came to Norway for Husbands gave me a ride. They asked if I was drunk. I told them I was sleepy, an obvious lie, and had missed my ferry to Bergen, also a lie. I choose not to pay for the trip, opting to hitchhike. I've picked up many hitchhikers. There's an expectation that they're likely intoxicated. They wake me near Bergen and tell me to get out. I'm out of it alright. I'm not sure what they were telling me, step out of the car, and realize I have no idea where I am. I stick out my thumb. I get picked up immediately by a parcel driver who takes me to the train station around the corner. My cool buzz drifts me into the station and I make friends with a group discussing the current football match being played between Barcelona and Manchester United. It's essentially the “Super bowl”. One of them leads me to a pub when we reach Bergen and it’s like a theatre inside the bar, with the game projected onto a wall and the room packed with fans. Barcelona wins and we all go cheering into the streets. It’s a riot. The fans are on the stage and tables in the bar, then on the fountains in the street. Apparently in Barcelona it was a legit riot with heavy property damage. They're serious over here. I ask some young 18 year old girls where old men drink; one of them points me toward a bar that her dad goes to regularly. I'm thrilled. The bar is everything it should be. I introduce myself around. Within an hour I break a glass and take my leave. I had met a man and his son who shouldn't have been there because it was a 23 and up bar, but his Father is a regular. I tell them about myself and my traveling. He tells his son not to listen to a word I say, that I'm a drunk and filled with tall tales. He's right, and I love it. However my tales are too real to be faked. I regale them about my career, my education, my professional salary. He scoffs at me. His son apologizes and says it is a very unbelievable story. They should have smelled me four days earlier. The next pub I find a heavy set woman with her friends. I accompany them to a late night karaoke bar. I dance with her, feeling deep into the gills on her back as I twirl her around the dance floor. I find myself again in the street, standing on a corner smoking a cigarette, surrounded by prostitutes. They blow me kisses. I ignore them. Some people are useless to engage with because they only want one thing, your money. I search for more cigarettes and end up talking with a woman near 50 who is pulling off a full bottle of wine. I drink most of it. This second bottle is what did me in. It was nearly 4 in the morning. I vaguely remember trying to get her to take me home. I needed to sleep somewhere. And upon denial, I finished her bottle and journeyed away, toward the end of the night.

I left the hospital in the morning, first being yelled at to get out, then once more for getting lost in the hospital. I'm barely conscious. I am in a sense of disbelief at finding myself alive. How did this happen? Ugh. I leave the front doors, into the dull fog. Directed to the train station, my attempt to get on the first train fails. It’s Sunday, and its full. My 5 hour wait is spent first in the train station on a bench. Within an hour, security pushes me on. The language of "Get the fuck out" is universal. I find a cemetery and consider sleeping with the dead, too serendipitous. I wander the cemetery and see a phone booth for a call box on the highway. I curl into a tight ball in the greenhouse warmth of this shelter for those...for me, but what am I? Did I really get picked up in the street? At least it was an ambulance and not a squad car. I've had that experience in America. I wake from a ray of sunshine on my face, look at the time, and run to barley catch my train. I try to sleep in my first class leather seat (sold of out second class again). My detox-shakes cause me to convulse and jerk in my sleep. I stare out the window, watching my hand tremble. I hold down the bile. I think back to the old woman and the 4 am bottle of wine. Did it really happen?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scandinavian Forestry

Pine trees mixed with oaks, maples, and other production confers and hardwoods. They grow on wood lots, true wood lots, no more than a hundred acres at a time.  Between them are cows and barns in fields, homes with rural parks and football fields for the youth and intramural leagues.  Finally, I see a pick-up truck, a Toyota, but a truck none the less.  Silvicultures vary in Sweden and Norway, anything from seed-tree seed step, shelter wood prep steps, commercial and pre-commercial thinning, and single tree selection.  All scattered in view sheds designated for the railroad.  This is forestry on a pure farming basis, removed from our feel good forestry in California.  Give these men and women a dangle-head single grip harvester to chop, limb, and buck.  Or give them an International harvester for the wheat and grains growing in the adjacent fields of their wood lots. 

Not all site is created equal. Flat rocky expanses of scrubby pine lay below the dense stands of confers on the rich foothill slopes.  A stand of manicured 15 year old Douglas-fir sticks out like a sore thumb in the endless pine.  They have been planted within a 50+ acre clear-cut. A small 300 foot buffer extends between the plantation and the railroad tracks could've fooled a less discerning eye.  Then homes, steep pitched roofs, more welcoming pick-ups, and a broadcast over the train intercom welcoming us into Norway.  I attempt not to scoff at the low productivity of their timber land.  I have not been away from the Pacific Northwest long enough to ignore the differences.  They have beautiful trees and great management difficulties that a Californian forester never needs to ponder.  From my view in the train, I can imagine everything covered in snow and ice, a world outside the reach of a Fanny Trekkers arsenal.  High school students gossip can be heard a few seats in front of me, their words are indistinguishable, but familiar.  I highly doubt they are discussing the forested view we are passing.  But, that is the whole idea, to make it unnoticeable; at least to the untrained eye.  It is my curse as a forester to not see beyond the forest at the beauty of an individual tree.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Afternoon and Evening

"How's your wife?" she asks.  "Doin’ poorly, we have some more tests next week."  They bow their heads.  A man orders a glass of wine.  I order a beer, she indicates a glass, and I nod.  They begin discussing football matches and the windy weather, why the bartender is working on her day-off – she explains she's covering for someone.  A man nudges me, gestures to my adjacent stool, his long gray beard brushes against me as he sits.  There are other seats in the bar, but he wants to be where the conversations are to be had.  The conversation shifts to politics.  An old woman three stools down sets down her drink and chimes in aggressively.  They go back and forth.  A man slams his fist, punctuating his point. The bartender sets out peanuts, things subside. She orders another pilsner.  I attempt ordering a wheat beer, it comes with a lemon and a strange plastic stick with a star shaped base.  The man next to me says it’s for pressing the lemon on the bottom of the glass.  "If you wish. It is your choice."  He attempts to discuss the weather with me – proof of our likeness as people.  The bar boy walks in, whistling.  Everyone looks down into their drinks.  The heavier man on the other side of the gray beard orders another wine, his lips smack together between sips.  Two men come in and play billiards (not pool).  This is proper billiards with three balls and no pockets.  The cook sings loudly in an Italian melody of ♪la da da dee da♪.  I try ordering a darker beer. She asks; "You want cold, or not so cold?"  I request not so cold.  She pulls a bottle from a wine rack type shelf.  I pour my Westmalle Trappits Dubbel into a goblet of a glass.  "When it’s too cold you can't taste it." she says.  I can taste it. Two English couples walk-in. I can understand what they're saying.  It displeases the imagination.  I order a glass of Three Roses Bourbon, my way of finding an old friend in a far off land.  I depart from my Dutch friends.  I leer at the English.

Dissonant resonates throughout the end of their third song.  A small room, with a handful of Tuesday evening music lovers, we applaud their performance in the lonely room.  His afro-Cuban beats, on a box drum called a Cajon, pulse the life blood through musical arteries.  The trio is disappointed to learn they will not be paid.  Having set up already, they play a set.  We congregate in the narrow room and drink rich Belgium ale.  The bartender speaks of having been to the village where the beer is brewed.  I commiserate with the drummer on the poor state of financial support for musicians in Amsterdam.  We had met two days before when his bike was upside down, the back wheel seized by a bungie-cord spun tight around the tire and fender.  I stopped and offer him my pocket knife.  Once freed, he mentions the need to get to rehearsal.  He invites me to his next show.  Sometimes it’s good being the go-to-guy.  He plays a Latin beat on a cow bell that is attached to a base-drum like kick pedal.  Sitting on his Cajon, his beats drive his self-composed music for the trio.  They jam, similar to a shitty Humboldt jam band, but in a way that isn't repulsive.  They are each professionally trained musicians, weaving expertly through complicated chord progressions and time signature changes.  I hearken back to years of education in music theory and chord structure.  They pour salt into my wounded heart, broken from my loss of muscle memory needed to play with such virtuosity; I could not stand on stage with these gentlemen. I order a glass of Irish whiskey and drink it down.  They continue with their syncopate rhythms. It’s erotic. The night is maturing like a fine wine, subtlety changing in its complexities, adding flavor through the additional bodies filling the small space.  I order another Belgian ale.  The cow bell rings out from his foot pedal.