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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, November 03, 2006

Day 4, Night-night and Some Company for Nima

12:45 a.m.

Good story, everyone agrees. That’s when I notice the bartender is different. It’s Peter, the tall American who’s nice to people. He chooses good music too, at least for someone of my generation. Nima is leaning against the wall next to the cash register. She and Peter and Malcolm are deep in conversation and I can’t hear anything.

We order another round, and I start to complain about how little French I’ve used on this trip so far. Angie points out two guys sitting at a nearby table and says they’re locals. One has a buzz cut and glasses, the other looks like the lead singer of a rock band, with long black hair and a crooked mouth.

Before I turn back to face my table I call to them, “Excusez! Je vous invite de nous joindre!”
They look at each other and shrug that half-shrug that should be immortalized in sculpture as the most French of gestures. They barely speak English, and I’m the only one at my table who speaks any French, except one little guy from Argentina. The four of us shuffle our chairs around and split off from the main group. We introduce ourselves and talk about where we came from, etc. The little guy from Argentina can’t understand anything, and I can’t understand him. Eventually he sits back and half listens. He doesn’t speak English either. I feel bad for him, but I think there’s very little I can do. I hope he can pick up enough of one conversation or another to at least stay here. I buy him a beer.

The two Frenchman are interesting. I have trouble understanding the clean-shaven one; he’s more than three feet away and the music is loud. The long-haired one is very patient with me, repeating himself when I need it and bearing with me when I start to talk where my vocabulary doesn’t support me. After a while I recount the story about the brothel.

“So,” the long-haired guy asks, “you didn’t do anything there? Have you not since you’ve been here?”

“Nope, I’m married.” I show them Alex and K.

They look at each other with closed-lipped smiles. They shrug again in unison.

Mais,” the clean-shaven one starts, “mais, il faut profiter quand on peut. N’est-ce pas?

It’s my turn to shrug. “Ce n’est qu’une semaine. Je peux attendre.”

They act like I’m speaking a foreign language. Is this the way these people really think? My first real conversation with real French people, and they throw out this bomb!

Nima’s calling me over. She wants to buy me a drink. Malcolm wants to tell me about all the editing that my novel needs. I hate to say it, I don’t even admit it to them, but I’m kinda tired of speaking French. Nima wants to go upstairs and get a bottle of wine. Paul and I accompany her, and we stay in that room for a while. Paul is talking about the Simpsons, and Justin wants to talk about my Moorish carver. I show them my book on calligraphy, and they seem interested, despite the alcohol.

Back downstairs, the Frenchmen are gone and it’s about to be last call. Malcolm is gone too. I still have a paper cup full of Nima’s bootlegged wine, and Peter pulls me aside to tell me to throw it out.

I order a bottle of cheap shit red swill for 8 Euros. It’s an Australian Shiraz, and I’ll probably regret that for the rest of my life. My only other choice was a white not much better than Yellow Tail. Nevertheless I start pouring around the table and Nima disappears to talk to Peter again. Paul and I start in on Simpsons quotes again, and we all sing with Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” comes on. Every person in that bar knew most of the words, even the little Argentinean.

Paul’s favorite episode is the “Whacking Day” episode. For him it explores the most interesting elements of crowd psychology: normally reasonable people getting caught up in a barbaric ritual with dubious origins, and then following the leader in denouncing it the moment Barry White shows up. I tell him my current favorite is the Burlesque House episode and, aside from its timeliness tonight, it has great crowd scenes as well.

* * *
“Wait, people!”
Everyone stops.
“Sure, we could knock down the burlesque house--“
Immediately the crowd begins smashing and burning again.
“Wait!! I said, we could knock down the burlesque house, but then...”
Everyone stops.
* * *

And of course, Sideshow Mel acts as the voice of the mob in both cases. As I’m talking, a rain of warm liquid splashes on my hands and clothes and Paul jumps up. I’ve knocked over a wine glass, but it doesn’t break.

“Oh, shit, I’ve made a faux pas!” I run to get napkins.

This is only interesting because Paul then tells me the pants he’s wearing are his only pair. He’s been wearing them for three months and will wear them for six more if they last.

I say, “I find it hard to believe this is the first time you’ve spilled alcohol on them in three months.”

“It sure is. What an honor for ya, mate!’

Wow.

The lights go out. It’s five minutes until two. Nima is behind the bar now, talking to Peter, just inches from his face. We shuffle out of the bar and into the courtyard. There are three South Africans out there I’ve seen a few times. I’m not tired at all, so I grab a chair. I’ve still got some more wine. I don’t think Peter was supposed to let me take it out, but I think Peter’s got other things on his mind than following these rules.

The South Africans talk about American Football and the Simpsons, then one of them starts being a little sheepish. I swear he’s almost turning his toes in the dirt as he looks down.

“So, what’s up with your little friend in there?

“Huh?” I say, knowing full well who he’s referring to.

Lakkebaude,” another guy says.

“What about her?” I ask.

“Well, you know she’s trouble, right? I mean... chhhhhhhhaaaat!” This sounds like the word “hot”, but with a sound like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” or Hebrew “challah”. A hard “h”. He continues, “You know, I spotted it wivin five minutes of seein ‘er. Maintenance like a bugger, but... chaaaaat!”

“Hot? Yeah she’s hot, but I don’t know much about her. What, were you thinking about tagging 'er?” Men talk like this. I’m not proud of it, just bear with me.

Lakkebaude,” the other guy says again. The ‘d’ sounds like the ‘th’ in ‘that’. I know because they spelled it for me later.

Lakketita,” the third chimes in.

They all laugh. My laugh is pretty hollow because I don’t know what they’re saying.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Afrikaans. Lakke is kind of like, well when you’ve gone out gettin pissed, you’ve had lakke beer. This chick is lakkebaude, ‘cause baude, means ass. She’s lakke ass!”

The third guy, a clean-cut prep-school type, says, “I suppose you can guess what lakketita means.”

“Yeah, got it.”

“Anyway mate, you’ve been hangin ‘round her a lot, and I just wanted to make sure you know she’s trouble.”

“Lucky me.”

“Yeah, wivin five minutes, mate.”

“Well, I don’t think she’s aiming to be my problem anymore, if she ever was. She didn’t say much to me tonight at all. I don’t think I’m her type, you know, married and all.”

All three of them laugh. The second guy, tall rugby type, says, “Fuck difference that make in a place like this? Why your wife let you come ‘ere, knowin’ what kind a place it is?”

“I don’t think she knew. I don’t think I knew. Doesn’t make a difference though. I’m only here one more night after tonight.”

I see a flicker to my right. It’s coming from the bar, through the glass-paned door. Paul’s still in there, lighting a cigarette, with Nima and Peter behind the bar.

“What’s this?” the little South African says. “When’s the bar close?”

“Two o’clock,” I say.

“Fuck, it’s two-thirty now!”

He walks up to the door and taps on it.

Peter throws open a different door, one I hadn’t noticed before. He must have been on his way out here already; he was through it before the little guy finished knocking.

“What time you guys close in there?”

“Two o’clock. We’re already closed.”

“So what you doin’ inside?”

Peter closes the door behind him and surveys the four of us, eyeing me more than the rest.

“It’s just me, the girl, and the cock-block in there.”

I burst out laughing. I can’t help it; I’ve never heard the term used in context before. I don't think I knew what it meant.

Peter and the little guy start to talk in low tones while the rest of us tell cock-block stories. I don’t remember any of them.

The little guy comes over and starts whispering orders. He points to us, giving us each assignments. For some reason the words come back to me, “If given the right atmosphere, this young man could go far”. We’re going to heard Paul out of there, and for our services Peter is buying one more round. I do the math on my own: Peter is going to spend 12E and risk going to jail so he can get laid. Am I betraying some friendship with Nima to help in this?

Well, another beer sounds good.

While we wait for Peter to open the door, the tallest South African laughs. He speaks to me in a low voice.

“You know what’s so funny about this is how we’re all so true to our cultures: it’s the American who’s willing to buy his way to getting laid, while the Aussies try to sit around and tell stories. All the South Africans are into it for is to get fuckin’ pissed!”

I wonder where that leaves me.

The four of us crowd around Paul as I get my treasured 1664. We glance at each other from time to time and inch toward the back door. Nima and Peter are getting closer together as Peter counts the till.

Within five minutes Paul is out the door and he starts to complain about the cold.

I finish my beer and throw out the empty. Suddenly my feet feel four days’ worth of intense walking and my eyes hurt. And I realize that tomorrow is my last full day. I nod to the other South Africans and bid Paul a good night. I’ve done my job and been a good soldier. Up the stairs, through the open door, I see there’s someone new on the top bunk. I think it’s a girl.
I take two Tylenol and drink a half-liter of water. I fall asleep within ten minutes, snickering about the cock-block and hoping my upstairs neighbor can sleep through it.

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