red is where i've ridden; green is where i've cheated. (quickly lower and raise the pointer finger of your right hand for more detail and please don't forget vanuatu.)
so i’m in this mad, mad city of istanbul having swallowed the taste of death while negotiating the most wicked traffic in the world and when i got (unwillingly (very)) funneled going the wrong direction on a jam packed six-lane super duper mega highway and realized i had to u-turn it despite the median and in my head said there’s no way in hell, heaven, or anywhere in between i’m going to pull this off but then i looked up from my despondency and johnny to the moon there was a break and at the sound of a gun inside my head i jumped out of the gates and raced along pushing my bike and rammed it up and over and down the other side of that blockade (heart thumping) and just kept on sprinting along now with an apologetic and frantically waving hand to the prelude of what would soon be a symphony of honking horns (it was as if i were conducting) and got to the other side and caught my breath and shook my head and started riding again and i said billy my boy (billy is me), let us not taste death again (though we did (it tasted like maple)).
and all the while i’m just thinking “where are all these people going? i mean, where the hell are they all going? and why?” but it was both rhetorical and hypocritical because where the hell am i going anyway anyhow and even if i could answer that i could never answer why and no longer even attempt to.
add to this chaos the distraction of top of the lung “hello, how are you?”’s and other verbal turkish delights and those looks of incredulity i love to see when i look at rearview mirrors looking back at me and a walloping wind at my side and the beginnings of rain and all sorts of "no bikes" signs and the spires of mosques everywhere beckoning us all to prayer (i said plenty) and me with a soggy sheet of paper in my pocket pinpointing precisely where i needed to go and none of it making sense and then i started turning my handlebars to make it make sense and it finally did and there i was and the next thing i know i’m pressing a button attached to an apartment complex and waiting on a guy i’ve never met or spoken to and then there he is and there i am and he says “welcome” and i say “testicular” or something like that which essentially means, in needing-to-be-oiled turkish of course, “lordy lordy billy, thank the lord!”
and i’m a filthy, dreggy dog having, the night before, ducked in an under-construction home surrounded by a mote of mud to escape this funk of a phenomena we call “weather” which has sadly (sometimes) usurped my euphoria and ignited my nausea but whatever the weather i’ll weather the weather, whether i like it or not. after all, it can’t rain and snow forever (just for most of it).
and despite all this, me, my limp and dripping beard, and my brown-though-it-should-be-green bike, despite all this and much much more, this guy, ali, this guy who doesn’t know me and whom i don’t know, this guy he says “welcome” but not just “welcome” more like “welcome!” and indeed that’s exactly how i felt and soon enough i crossed that (god bless it) magical portal into a world of warmth, dryness, and steaming hot tea and i sipped it nice and slow and closed my eyes and said to myself, "i'm here."
and the next day i’m using his computer and checking my emails which can bring me so much joy or misery depending (god, the agony of an empty inbox later to be (somewhat) filled with two-sentence quips including quotes along the lines of “sorry i never write, it’s just been so crazy here lately” which only tells me my rank in the list of priorities has fallen steeply but then i realize that it’s okay because lately i’ve realized that everything is okay) and so there i am and i’m just sitting there without a message to click on and the tears are welling up but i’m consoling myself with food munching on a handful of dates and a dollop of natural yogurt wishing i could write like salinger and preparing for some yoga and wondering why people let life get “crazy” because if you don’t let it, it won’t (it’s that simple (though i’m sure many would argue otherwise)).
but then the silence and reverie and hopelessness are shattered as an out-of-breath ali enters telling me to get dressed, that we are going to a museum, to a museum of modern art, with his friend who is waiting in her car outside, to hurry up, to come on, to let’s go, and my mindset was yoga and self-pity, and, though it took some fine tuning, i immediately changed channels (no pills (yet) necessary) and threw on some pants and got my fingers tangled in my dreads and checked it all out in a mirror mentally telling all the women of istanbul to look out ‘cause hIrSch is a’comin’ (so pitiful) and i even cracked a smile and out the door we went and into the car and me in the back with the window as my screen and episodes were happening everywhere not the least of which was the whistling old man carrying a bag of apples who stumbled on the sidewalk and glaringly looked back to see what had caused it and there was nothing there and how he must have realized that he was getting old and unsure-footed and how that must have caused him to stop trilling that tune which i can’t now recall though i wish i could and how it all makes me realize i’m getting older too (as are you, as is everything (death always wins (say it ain’t so joe...say it ain’t so (but it is)))).
and the only reason i got to see this full episode with the whistling and its trip-caused termination was quite simple, the reason being we were in istanbul and we were in a car and we were in traffic which meant we were going nowhere and this compounded with the fact that we were in the heart of the city on a one lane one way road behind a garbage truck on pick-up duty at five o’clock in the afternoon on a goldblessed friday meant our whammies were quintupled and so we sat and sat and sat and there were so many episodes and some of them i made up after just seeing a person for only a second like that beautiful girl whose eyes met mine and how i knew that she was in love with me and wished she had stopped to talk to me and how she surely was debating coming back to do just that but then she was afraid that i would think that strange (her passing and then returning and all) so she told herself she wouldn’t and she cursed herself for not acting on her impulses and how she would cry tonight, she would cry for me (as so many have), and how yet another love of my life had slipped me by and how i wished for things that weren’t so slippery....someday.....but the truth of the matter is i could have never loved her just as i don’t want to love anyone or anything because everything dies (death always wins) and when things you love die it causes pain so if you love you are guaranteeing yourself pain and they put people in asylums who do things that will knowingly cause pain and i’ve, for other reasons, already got one foot in the door and for this reason i will love no one and by saying this, even though it is a lie (but don’t let me know this), it makes me feel successful, or, that i have accomplished a goal by not loving and thusly, in my suffering of solitude, i justify it by knowing that i have indeed done what i wanted (but not really wanted) to do (and all the while miserable because of it).
well good god if forty-five goldblessed minutes (and only 2km) later we didn’t ride right by ali’s apartment from which we had started this whole escapade which of course made no sense but that’s istanbul for you – a vast sea of one-way roads and we were treading water – but after much turkish and pointing and ultimately an agreement, we were swimming again until the gridlock yoked us up again. and all the while i just watched life happen and was content to do so.
at this point my mind started thinking how i hadn’t done my yoga and this made me sad so i started imagining myself doing yoga and then there i was, doing it, even thought i wasn’t really doing it, it was being done and with closed-eyes and that smile on my face i realized that i will quit everything i am doing and ever wanted to do and just go back to guatemala and meditate for the rest of my life just living through my cognitive powers and eating avocados and those fresh steaming-hot corn tortillas (the kind those ladies clap together over open fires) and then my smile got bigger because i decided i would start loving people in this way because as soon as they died i would just stop meditating and that way they would no longer be dead and i could be in control (which is where i like to be). so i will love again. yes, i will. in fact, i love you. yes. you.
but my meditation dissolved as we came to a seat-belt locking halt to ask the kebab man (god, if you could have seen this man. a sad little affair slicing dead animals amidst a haze of smoke and he was so happy it made me want to buy a kebab if only not to eat it but just because i felt i had to) for directions and he pointed and threw arms this way and that and i loved that little old man and knew that if i came back to this place at this time on tuesday or the following friday or in any odd number of days he would be right there doing just that because that is what he does and he serves a purpose and keeps this globe spinning and revolving and i knew right then that he was god and i think i will see him again some day (unless he dies, in which case i still might see him again someday (we will all see each other again someday (and i look forward to it (i.e. seeing each other again, not death)))).
well, my love for the kebab man persisted despite what turned about to be less than marginal directions and so we had to stop again, this time at a vendor selling a heterogeneous collection of stuffed animals all with blinking red eyes and while i couldn’t muster up any love for this man at all, his – it must be said – directions were impeccable.
and so the three of us in the now suffocating car saw the goldblessed museum but we couldn’t figure out a way to actually get there and meanwhile the traffic of the turks was just splattering all over the place and then the driver, this girl, swings a u-turn like you wouldn’t believe such that my kidneys traded places but it afforded us nothing because some moments later she had to do it again, and we were oval’ing this section of the city such that i was dizzy with delirium, i mean really dizzy, to such an extent that when i heard the mosques calling us all to prayer i silently said, "to hell with it" (which caused me to immediately hate myself).
without going into details, we finally found a way to get near the museum and overcame the next monumental task of finding a place to leave the car and when we, after an eternity, did that we started walking towards this mecca of modern art and i started thinking about how everything is art and how even i was art and, resultantly and foolishly, changed my gait because of it.
at the risk of unnecessarily dragging out this affair, it would be derelict of me to neglect to mention that we couldn’t find the actual entrance of this museum either. it was like everything was set up to not go to this museum. so we walked and walked on dark sidewalks without a hint of a sign or a light or another human being and i knew ali was sweating it because he was with his girl and all and nothing was making sense and i wondered if he could feel drops of sweat forming in his armpits. at this point, i really must tell you, i was ready to bag this entire “outing” and just go home and eat some bananas or something and do my yoga and be sad. but we persevered and saw a light in the distance and went to it and there were scores of people in coats and ties (the suckers) and photographers and tv cameras and i enjoyed the moments because i pretended it was all for me and when we walked in, or, i should say, when i walked in it was like all too many movie scenes where everything that was going suddenly stops but i’m so used to this anyhow and so i just keep on going and eventually everything resumes and we are all going once again (to where?, who knows). but then this guy, with his eyeliner and all, one of those real artsy types that you instantly hate, comes up to me and he says to me “can i help you?” and i think about all the ways i could answer this question but ali comes to my rescue spouting off some terse turkish, and, however begrudgingly, mr. eyeliner lets me be (which is all i ask from this world, specifically, for it to just let me be (though this seems to be an impossible request)).
and finally, some “modern” art. all photographs. turns out, the actual photographer was there signing copies of his books and i started thinking about that leap one makes when one has a camera (or a pen) and decides that no longer will the shutter click (or the ink dry) for the sake of no sake but rather for the sake of getting the shot (or writing the paragraph) such that the result will be money and sometimes i think doing things for no sake (or for heaven’s (or pete’s) sake) is the only way to go, but i could tell the photographer was rich and had “done well for himself” and then i started thinking how it must be nice to go into a grocery store without being plagued by the mental challenges of maximizing the value of triple ratios (calorie : gram : price), but me, i’d rather be poor any day and i just need to find a girl (that i will not love because she will die) to be happy and poor with me. are you she? am i your he? (if, incidentally and improbably, you’re in love with me, i implore you to cease such nonsense. i will be nothing but an anticlimax for you. i mean it. i can even provide you with a (however disappointingly short) list of girls who will (in no uncertain terms) verify this).
so after crashing this little book signing shindig, the three of us wandered yet again, this time through muddy gravel and, in triumph, found the true entrance to the museum and what a relief it was. and yes, yes, of course there were the obligatory things like deflated basketballs submerged in half-filled fish tanks and hair dryers that inflated plastic bags but there were these one paintings and the hands on those folks, well, they made you look at your own hands with a self-conscious pity. and also the broom that chased me. i mean it actually moved. and now i have nightmares. the brooms. the brooms. dear god, the brooms.
and when the, as it turned out, enjoyable evening was over, it was, for me, really just beginning. but before going into this, i need to ask two things: first, for some blessings. second, for you to bear with me.
god bless that man in those harsh moroccan desert winds who waved me into his decrepit bedouin tent (that collapsed) for a little repose and the most supersaturated sugar sweetened mint tea you can fathom and those miraculous heights from which he ceremoniously poured it into such a small little glass and we sipped it and spoke spanish of all things and he happily smoked his cigarettes and i ate my dates.
god bless that spaniard who, upon seeing my blood and snot and dna stained cycling gloves, insisted on giving me his and keeping mine as a souvenir (and i forgive him for his subsequent vague directions that were soon to get me lost in a stormy sea of highway interchanges).
and god bless that french woman who gave me a room in her home as a wicked storm beat down on the alps and how she later returned with two liters of warm milk fresh from the udders of her cows which pleased me to no end and gave me a double mustache along with a delightfully distended belly.
god bless that little swiss miss on her bike who told me to follow her (i would have regardless; and anywhere at that) and how i fell in love with her chin because it was perfect and as she wrote down her email address for me i just watched that chin of hers and wanted to, in addition to putting my thumb on it, say, “you have a perfect chin,” but, thankfully, didn’t do either (as an aside, she has never returned my emails. perhaps because my chin is invisible?).
well god bless that italian belle who gave me directions and i don’t know how she poured herself into those pants but she did and lord almighty i may have had an impure thought or six and as she walked away i forgot everything she told me only remembering what really mattered.
and god bless that austrian on the dirt roads who upon hearing my question of, “how many more kilometers until austria?”, answered so simply, “you’re cycling in it right now!”
and may god bless those school kids in lichtenstein, who, upon hearing about my ride, retorted with “f--- me!”’s and “holy s---!”’s, right in front of their teacher who said, “doesn’t your a—hurt?” i told them all that their english was coming along quite well.
and god please bless that sad and lonely and old and foggy-with-sleep german woman who, like me, was up before the sun and god how i saw her open her front door and look left and pause and look right and pause and then gingerly lean down and sorely pick up her newspaper and how i knew she must do that every morning and how i hoped all the news was good and then i spent some hours really trying to decide if she ever looked to the right first and decided she didn’t and i loved her (because she wasn’t dead).
and to that poor danish man who gave me all the berries he had picked and how genuinely happy he seemed to be to do so and i knew he had no money (the most evil thing in the world) and we were therefore brothers and thank you too, god, for making him accept the loaf of bread i gave him in return.
god bless whoever that norwegian was who built that barn that was dry and empty and needed and surrounded by fresh raspberries and also that little bird that wasn’t afraid with which i traded my crumbs for a song.
may god bless that maintenance man in sweden who let me sleep in the school’s basement and how he was worried i might set off the motion detectors and so we just laughed and covered them with duct tape and the next day we cooked potatoes and drove out to his cottage and picked blueberries and how we drove until kingdom come looking for a “cloudberry” that he was determined to have me taste and i was convinced we were out of luck and ready to pull the ripcord until i heard him laugh and he came over with one golden orange berry in his hand and said, “here, eat it” and i did and how all the seemingly futile searching was worth it for that one moment, not for the cloudberry itself, but for the fact that he had done what he said he would do.
and for finland, god, for that man who cycled with me until the rain started at which time he retreated asking, “where will you go? it’s raining!” and i said, “i’ve got nowhere to go and i gotta get there!”
god please bless those kind estonians who heard me asking directions in a gas station and when they saw that i had missed my turn chased me down and set me straight (directing me to a gawdawful road under construction full of wet mud and potholes and i must say that, at the time, i cursed them which is why i now ask for their blessing (sorry god)).
and really, you must bless that genial and ancient latvian woman on a bike who saw me picking apples and cycled over and indicated they weren’t good enough and how she opened her sack of apples and started taking them out and giving them to me, first one, then two and then eleven and despite my declarations that it was too much she just kept giving me apples putting them anywhere capable of holding an apple; on top of my trailer, in the inner crease of my elbow, there were apples everywhere, and how i, in acquiescence to gluttony, ate them all in one fell swoop (and early the next morning regretted the hasty decision, while down on my haunches during my bowel movement(s)).
and bless that man in poland who waved me down and sat me down and how he knew i knew no polish and i knew he knew no english but we just kept on talking to each other and how it was the most nonsensical thing in the world, i mean, him going on and on in polish and me blabbing away in english but we just did it and i remember thinking – is this happening? - and then i realized that i realized that everything is happening at all times and everywhere and i told him i saw angels and i think he told me he saw angels too (he must have, in fact he was an angel) and his wife brought out some soup made from hand-picked mushrooms and tea and homemade bread and then i was on my way.
and when the rain was coming down with fury in the czech republic and i found refuge in a soccer stadium, and, convinced i had the place to myself, hung out all my stuff to dry and then i heard voices and i looked up and said, “god?” but it wasn’t god, just some kids who unconvinced my previous conviction and found me and they saw my cold bare feet and we couldn’t communicate and i hoped they wouldn't go home and tell their parents about the bum they’d found but they were telling their parents and how some hours later in the dark of night i heard noises and prepared for the worse but it was the kids and they had come back with their mother and brought me hand made apple danishes and tea and the warmest pair of socks i’ve ever owned and they were so happy to help me and the fact that i could cause another organism happiness and get some apple danishes out of the deal made me happy too (the socks are on my feet now).
and a sneezeless god bless you to that old man in bosnia-herzegovinia who of all things handed me tissues, i mean tissues, i wasn't even crying (then) and he handed me tissues, and the thing was i used them.
and to that man in montenegro, god bless him, who told me, “we don’t hate americans...” to which i replied that was good to hear, but he continued and said, “you didn’t let me finish. we don’t hate americans, but we don’t like them either.” but he had a good heart and we had a great conversation and he told me to tell my government that they’re not going to solve anything by dropping bombs and shooting bullets and i whole-heartedly agreed, and i think, despite himself, he ended up liking me.
and god watch over that man in kosovo who when he found out i was an american treated me to two coffees and told me he loved my country and opened his wallet to reveal, where most would keep an identification card, a patch of the american flag and how he beamed with a smile and i, however briefly, felt patriotic (for all the wrong reasons).
and bless the entire country of macedonia, the only country in europe where i didn’t have any rain or snow (for the two whole days it took me to cycle across it) but regardless god bless that country and lord almighty thank you and i’ll even take a knee.
and bless that mother and son who waved to me from their car in turkey, and how, two hours later, while i was cycling through a town, the very same son came running towards me and breathlessly tells me he’s been watching for me and takes me to his home for tea, rice, cucumbers, pastries, bananas, mandarins and memories that i will have when enough time elapses for the event to have actually happened.
and speaking of turkey again, here is the rest of that story that i interrupted above.
ali and i got home from the museum. and then i got on a bus. and then i got on a train. and then i got to an airport. and then i slept on the floor of that airport. and then i woke up and waited in a line (hebetudinous with hallucinations) and was x-rayed (i.e. cancer’ed) and got in a big giant plane where i sit right now and so:
god bless cheap internet plane tickets.
god bless my lonely niAgA oLoS (bike) and wAylAy dEucE (trailer) that wait for my forthcoming return to istanbul.
god bless this awful movie that’s on right now that has engrossed all those around me.
god bless this little button i can press to activate my light.
god bless that stewardess who, i know, is in love with me.
god bless the lavatory where i look in the mirror and wonder what it is i see (and god bless that old woman who couldn't figure out how to open the lavatory door (i showed her)).
god bless that little space near the exit door where i could do some mini-yoga until i was deemed a "threat."
god bless the vegetarian meal option.
god bless duty-free “age-defying” moisturizers to which i sampled and looked years younger (which made the stewardess fall even more in love with me).
god bless this time of year.
god bless central asia. i’m coming. probably.
god bless rex despanol who will meet me in new york city in a matter of hours.
god bless that fact that i will be hugging my family and friends soon enough.