“next”, “visa”, and “no” – the only three english words the nice little chinese woman knew and she spoke them to me in reverse order with a pause (indicated by a comma) between the last two
no visa, next.
no visa, next.
no visa? there must be some mistake. so if you could just -
no visa, next.
yes, i can hear you, but the thing is, i must have this visa and so if you don’t mind –
no visa, next.
ok, ok, but why no visa? (i had, three days earlier, submitted all the forms in duplicate, including a letter of invitation and all sorts of supporting documents, everything i had been told to submit which also involved a last minute scanned and emailed document from beijing that arrived just in time for me to include – had i left an entry blank? had i not x’ed a box? not crossed a t? checked female instead of male? hell’s bells, i need this visa, gotta get it, it’s my ticket of continuation)
no visa, next.
now please listen, i’m sure if i can just speak with someone else we can get this all sorted out so maybe you could call someone to -
and it was at this point i felt a hand from a man in the line behind me cradle and shift the left side of my rib cage, both gently but also with an unmistakable meaning and having waited an eternity for what i thought would be a mere formality, that rightward shift indicated my turn was over and seemingly everything was over and i dutifully and obediently (albeit reluctantly too) shifted to the right and tried to think of something but no thought was thunk and i was sunk and i hate embassies and i hate things that must be done in triplicate and i hate having to write in “block” letters and i hate signatures and i hate bureaucratic seals and i hate doors that must be opened by security guards and i hate flickering fluorescent lights and i hate pieces of glass between me and “officials” and i hate second-hands that click as they tick and i hated it all even more now and all eyes were on me, waiting to see what i’d do and i was waiting to see what i’d do too
“no visa, next” and i hadn’t started off on the right foot because before she even spoke those three endearing words to me she’d held up a sheet of paper that said $160 and even after i had reached deep – and i mean fathoms - down into my linty pockets, she refused my fifty dollar bill because the picture of the dead president wasn’t big enough but the one one hundred and one ten dollar bill were fine, just not the fifty, and i got nervous and unsettled in my stomach because i hadn’t a dime more on me and if i lost my place in this line my only chance to get this visa would be on thursday (it was monday) and all the while in the meantimes (and the times were mean) i was walking to a wharf every goldblessed day trying to jump on a boat to get me to kazakhstan (more on this later) and i couldn’t wait until thursday for this visa but luckily, a russian guy smoking a parliament gave me five tens for my lousy old fifty dollar bill and this made “no visa, next” more obliging and so here’s what happened: she took my money, which, as it left my hands and was received by hers, made my tongue swell up with dryness and i had to forcibly swallow since $160 equals about a month of my life and then she starts digging through heaps of passports and she can’t find mine which had my hands trembling until i stunted them in my (now empty) pockets but then she uncovered it and i was relieved and ready to have my visa and just get the hell out and so all seemed well as she neatly gathered up the one hundred and six tens and i was thinking – boy oh boy good lord if i’m not paying the piper – but the thing was she handed all of this, including my passport and even my visa application, back to me, slipping it ever so carelessly underneath the security window and that’s when she spoke those words “next,” “visa,” and “no,” but in reverse order
so after the rib-enhanced rightward shift into no-man’s-land i decided to regress to the back of the line and jumped back in it because, well, because i had to do something and that seemed like the only thing to do so i did it and ever so slowly, inch by inch, i, the last person in line now, approached the window yet again and there she was, now in the process of closing, but upon seeing me, took a pause from this process and, still smiling, said “no visa, next” but then a door opened, a potential magical portal, and a different lady came out and she looked like more of the authority figure i was hoping for, and i had no doubt she would sort this all out for me and with a kind smile i motioned her to the window and she came and let it be said that i did maintain my cool in this (seemingly at the time (though now i realize it didn’t matter (because nothing does))) harrowing situation and never got cantankerous or belligerent because i knew these people are just following the rules of fools and that is what they are paid to do so they do it and i knew it (and also i hate it when people get angry with other people; it makes me sick)
sorry to bother you, for some reason i have been denied my visa. here’s my passport and letter of invitation and all these forms…please notice that official seal from beijing too. i’m sure it’s just some silly mistake, ha-ha. so if you don’t mind, could you just give me my visa and i’ll be right on my way.
on my way.
yes, i’ll be on my way, it’s just i’m getting ready to travel through kazakhstan and then i’m crossing into china so everything will be fine once i get my chinese visa.
my chinese visa.
no, not your chinese visa. my chinese visa. can you please help me with this?
me with this.
it was then, perhaps a little longer than it should have taken, that i realized she spoke zero english other than the last three words that had been spoken to her, which she enunciated flawlessly, and before my eyelids elevated from their languid blink, metal security shielding dropped, instantly opaque’ing the security window, and i thought about knocking on it but didn’t because these people wanted to go home and i wanted to go to china and everyone wants something and nothing is ever enough and so i just stood there, standing there, until another hand from behind shoo’ed me out, this time via the palm of a security guard who said, “no visa?” but he didn’t say “next” and i didn’t say anything
back to the streets of azerbaijan, out to the streets of baku, where i kicked an empty beer can because if this life were a movie (and sometimes i pretend it is), the actor would have done that too
i left the embassy, dumbfounded, and walked the narrow alleys with my head spinning in disbelief and the vision (never have a vision) of my bicycle trip crumbling because this visa for china was supposed to be an unceremonial hoop jump – apply, get it, go, be gone – the plan had been, had always been to hop that cargo freighter across the caspian sea from azerbaijan to kazakhstan and cycle across kazakhstan into china continuing to southeast asia and keep proceeding until there was nowhere left to go which would be never because there is always somewhere which meant i had a long road ahead of me but of course the plan, at any point, could still be to hop a plane to topeka, kansas, get married, plant some seeds, make my home, and start mixing my dna with a woman who would ultimately fall out of love with me
and so i walked back to the place where the kind souls were putting me up (and putting up with me) in baku and thank god no one was home because i was in one schlapper of a mood and i got on the internet and looked stuff up and with eyes left to right and down and back realized getting a visa for china was no longer an option for an american on foreign soil (long useless story), and what was there to do but yoga and make some tea and pretend that life wasn’t happening all the while knowing it was (and wishing it weren’t)
and then i got out my world map and cursed that little bit of russia and china between kazakhstan and mongolia and that little bit of afghanistan that stood in the way of a relatively clean run into pakistan and i sipped more tea without even tasting it and decisions had to be made and that freighter that i was waiting on was supposedly “on its way” (later, more) but who knew and maybe i should head north into russia and then drop into kazakhstan but i didn’t have enough time on my azerbaijan visa for the processing time required for the russian visa; and maybe the long shot of a possibility of getting an iranian visa might hit the target and i could cycle through iran and then pakistan and india which is what i had originally wanted to do until i confirmed what i already knew to be true, that it is impossible for an american citizen to get an independent tourist visa for iran (we can have nukes, they can’t….fair? well of course it’s fair because we’re the good guys) or i could still hope to get that boat and get on over to kazakhstan, but from there, where? and then i decided not to care and didn’t and that – well - it felt good, and i just decided to hell with it all i’m gonna somehow get that boat to kazakhstan and i’m just going to go and something will come up but if there’s one thing i know it’s that i hate not knowing and at this point i didn’t know
and then there was an ignition of hope when i met an american who told me she "indeed" got a visa for some of these places and she said it was “no problem” but then i gave her a full-press investigation (the devil always being in the details) and it turns out she “knew people” at embassies and had a contact here or there and she had to book tours and be a part of a group and i mean, if you’re going to tell a story, tell the whole story in its absolute entirety (like i do)
i hate borders; i hate visas; i hate them; i remember that restless night
and so this boat, golddern this boat and i’d heard about it and how some people waited three hours for it and some people waited three weeks for it and so i hoped and god bless the guy who spoke azerbaijani who made no less than three hundred phone calls to “the port” to find out when the boat would be ready to roll to kazakhstan but the answer no matter what day it was or had been or would be was always “tomorrow” and the absurd number of times we called and tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow and then one day i stopped at a travel agent in town and he called for me (helpless me without a lick of azerbaijani or russian) and now the boat was leaving in two hours and i was told i needed to get down there right now and get a ticket and hop on and go but my bike was on the other side of town and nothing was packed (since nothing was happening until “tomorrow”) and i didn’t know what to do so i just did and i told the nice guy i’d go down there and try to get a ticket and see what i could do and he reminded me i couldn’t speak the languages and then – now get this – and then he hands me one of his two mobile phones (we’d met an hour ago) and tells me to take it down there with me and when i got there to call him and then hand the phone to the ticket seller (a grumpy old – yet amidst her onion-skin i could see a layer of kindness – woman) and he would arrange things with her, then she would pass the phone back to me, and he would tell me what’s going on and i assured him (i think i overdid the assurance and i hate it when i overdo things which i often overly do) that i’d bring his phone back and not to worry and he said he trusted me (and i wondered why) and with no time to lose i did what he said to do and a reasonable man would have paid $0.80 for the taxi but i jogged because $0.80 is about 20% of my daily budget (god how i’m like an anorexic with money but i have to be) and my legs and their muscles are free and being free is the only way to be (are you free?)
but they said i could stay until i got on that boat and thank god for that and thank god for them
down to the port again and this time the lady, she’s even smiling, says “today” and i jump and click my heels and she finally sells me a ticket and tries to extort money from me but i know what she is doing (and she knows i know) and i am no fool and i turned on the charm and she tuned down the bribe and with my ticket in hand she told me to come back that night – or possibly the next morning - but as it turned out when i got back to the place where i was staying i asked those kind souls to call the port for me ("just one more time boys...sorry") and confirm either tonight or tomorrow but the answer was that the boat was leaving now and jiminy crickets if i didn’t toss everything hither and tither and hopped on me old bike and tour de france’d down to that port and what chaos it was and when that lady saw my bike (that she hadn’t seen up to this point) she longed to have charged me more for it but i rode right past her and gave her a big wave and a smile and then customs also tried to charge me (illegally) for the bike but i just kept saying “ya markovka” which translates to “i am a carrot” and they got so frustrated that they just waved me on and after having to show my passport to umpteem henchman i was, good lord at long last, on the ship and lordy lordy how good it felt once we left the harbor and i was moving again because all that sickening stagnacity in baku had loosened up my bowels (which didn’t need loosening), but now i was moving, i was moving - moving - and i was cured and i pumped a fist (more for the movie than out of pure emotion)
and god bless the other foreigner on the ship who paid twice what i did and god bless that local who paid half what i did and god bless that old lady ticket seller
and so it was me, the guy from kazakhstan, and his leeches and every time i tried to read my book he’d start talking so i gave up and for the infinite’th time on this ride i had that conversation which was indistinguishable from the infinite ones preceding and the infinite ones that will surely follow
land ho matey’s, the shores of kazakhstan at long last and i’m itching to be back on the bike and we dock and i’m ready to jump ship but first the military enters the boat to do a “sweep” and then there are some announcements of which i can understand nothing and then we start to get off the ship and everyone is throwing their luggage on the flat bed of a huge truck and they’re all getting in a van but my bike is still down in the hull with those rusty railroad cars and i try nonchalantly to retrieve it but am immediately cut off by security and i try to explain how i need my bike and they say no because first i have to be “admitted” to kazakhstan and i say i’m already here but they’ve got guns so i get on a van with all the other cattle and we’re herded to this gawdawful room and then locked in by these military police and i’m thinking –hell, welcome to kazakhstan - and we all just stand or sit (me, standing) in a painful silence with all of our baggage strewn about and then they unlock this door and in comes a man with a beast of a german shepherd and that thing starts sniffing and snorting and grunting and howling away at all our sad bags and then the silence returns and we all just mull about killing time, seemingly slaughtering every solitary second (something i’m terrible at doing, especially with a hostage bike and especially when i think of all the other things i could and should be doing) and we just wait and wait and wait and no one’s d
and as i open the doors to the country of kazakhstan i’m supposed to go left but i go right, right back to that ship to retrieve my bike until the military stops me and all the barriers of language but after yet another passport check they finally realize what’s going on and let me go until the people on the ship stop me and i point to my bike and, after a passport check, they let me back on to the ship and i get on my bike and i ride as fast as i can just to get out of there until i reach a locked gate where the police tell me i must enter kazakhstan and i tell them i already have and no one knows what’s going on (except me) and my passport comes out again and, reluctantly, they open the gate and i’m off, on the road, good god the road, and i’m on it, glory be, but i’m not free yet, nope, rather, i’m on my way to where i’ve been told i must go to “register” which i must do “before i do anything else” and so it’s off to more bureaucracy at the migration military police office
which, following a lonely dirt road i was sure couldn’t be right, i finally found, located, of all places, adjacent to a residential apartment complex and i won’t begin to tell you how many geese i chased and how many pointed fingers i followed to get there and when i got in they shuttled me from person to person and finally i was handed a form to fill out, all the questions in russian, and i said hell, and so a lady took the form from me and motioned that she would fill it out for me and in the meantime i was instructed to sit on a couch and an hour later she called me in and gesticulated to sign here and who knows what i signed but i couldn’t care because i just wanted to go and i thought by signing i could be gone and leave the world behind, far behind, but i was told to wait again and, dizzy with hunger and delirium from all this waiting, i waited some more and god how i waited until i couldn’t stand it anymore and then i finally understood the hold-up: the head honcho must stamp this form and this honcho was not in and i asked when he’d be back and they indicated they didn’t know and i saw my form and i saw the rubber stamp and its ink and it was all right there and all that had to happen was for that form to be stamped and i was jumping out of my skin as to why we all had to wait for some joker to come do it when any of us could just do it and be done but i have stopped trying to understand the ways of this world so i obediently went back to my couch and just sat there staring at walls trying to remember the names of all the amino acids i had once memorized but could only think of 14 of the 20 and what a failure i was and the sun was almost down and that’s when i decided to ask the police if i could sleep there knowing they wouldn’t let me but asking nonetheless (because it was so
before first light i’m up and out and off and as soon as i am on the road a car pulls me over and god bless that man who got out and spoke english and took me to the outdoor market and helped me find dates and cheap apples and good, hard, brown bread and then he told me to follow him to his house and i did and we went to museums and the coast and to wwii monuments and to more outdoor markets and naps and to his father’s university and everywhere accompanied by justin timberlake’s voice
i was worn out and when we sat with his mother and father and ate dinner and he translated his mother’s never-ending questions one of them made me stop eating and it was this: “don’t you think you should be at home taking care of your family?” and i felt sad feeling that perhaps i was neglecting some sort of filial obligation but it’s not as if my family is decrepit or incapable of getting around but then i realized that “taking care of” might not mean those things – that it might just mean being there for them and i am anywhere but there because i am here so i couldn't eat anymore and answered more questions and nervously wondered if i should be where i was and if i perhaps should return so that my love for my family could be expressed with hugs rather than with an e-mail concluding four letter word followed by a comma and my name
and so, with such thoughts dragging me down, the next morning i was up and out and off before the sun and into the desert steppe of kazakhstan facing a severe cross-wind but not caring and then an suv passed me from behind and then stopped and a dutch guy with three kazakhs got out and asked what the hell i thought i was doing and i told them and they said i was mad and took photos and left and thirty minutes later came back the opposite way and pulled me over again with snickers bars and chocolate bars and coke and fanta and beer and a bottle of whisky (the latter two kindly declined) and they said that i seemed to be so happy and positive and that by being so i had brightened their day, and i thought – man, if they only knew – but nothing would be accomplished by stating the truth so it was left unstated and i was thankful and then they left and the wind blew and the dark clouds grew and i wondered if it would rain but it didn’t...
...because instead of rain it sleeted and add the wind to that and it felt like bb’s all over my body and so i pedaled as hard as i could (8 km/h) to a perfectly placed bus stop where i decided i would take refuge until i actually got there and reversed that decision because the thing was full of human feculence and reeked of human piss and i just couldn’t stop and submit myself to it and so i got gone and went and i remembered 4 more of the missing 6 amino acids and then i saw a little outpost off on a dirt road and i rolled the dice and rolled my wheels and went to it hoping for something, preferably impermeable, between my head and the storm
and as i pulled up i hoped the place was deserted because deserted places are the only places where i can find peace but my presence invoked the presence of others and these guys were migrant workers from uzbekistan and glory be if they didn’t welcome me with tea (which i sucked down) and not an ounce of their gibberish could i decipher but i could tell they thought i was mad but regardless they showed me, without me having to ask, a place where i could bed down for a night (ended up staying two) and the ice came down and the wind blew and i had concrete between me and it and i was happy and that next day i, swaddling in my sleeping bag with the ting tang tong of ice beating down on tin, watched a water stain on the roof above me develop and form and flow and seep and i was sure drops would start falling all over me but instead it just spread and it was like a flower in bloom and i watched it for hours from the confines of my sleeping bag with a book resting on my chest and then i did some yoga until a guy walked in and told me to come drink more tea which i did because it was dang cold and grey and miserable and so me and this guy, an old, old man from russia drank tea and the only sound was our silence and the clink clank of stirring metal spoons on ceramic bowls from which we drank and we just sipped our tea and the ice just fell and there we were and how thankful i am for people that don’t feel the need to talk and then he invited me to his trailer and it was a sad old place and inside myself i was crying for this man and his kindness especially when he started a frankenstein of a heater for what i’m sure was my benefit and there the two of us were just sitting on his bed in front of this heater and he pulled out a newspaper and showed it to me and it was from 2002 and all in russian and i nodded at it and then we sat some more and i could tell he wanted a nap so i excused myself and hoped he wouldn’t die in his sleep because no one’s last memory should be one of me
but that’s what things do, they die
the next morning to hell with it all i said even though it was dismal’er than yesterday and still a bit icy and windy but i couldn’t bear the thought of another torpid day and so even though those boys told me to stay i packed up and left and as a small gift i gave them the big bottle of fanta (i’d already given them the coke) that the dutch guy had given me because the truth of the matter is that i don’t like fizzy drinks and because of that truth i didn’t feel too large-hearted about leaving it for them because i really didn’t want it anyhow, and so, in many ways, it was just like giving that red cup to the little boy in turkey
and so i was on the road and after a couple hours the hunger hit and i found an old hobo’s house off to the side of the road and settled down in there for a bit of a bite and wouldn’t you know it if, in the interim, that storm didn’t burn off and i saw blue skies and my spirits lifted and there i was jumping and hooting and hollering and punching the air in the desert (with the right music, this will be a great "turning point" in the movie) and i hopped on my bike and i rode the road strong, fast and hard and i even felt happy (which made me sad) and this road, good god, this road was empty, vacuous, and hollowed out of everything but me and i welcomed myself to the desert steppe of kazakhstan and for the next gawdawful however many days it was me and the camels and the jackasses and the occasional car covering me in a cloud of dust but i couldn’t care because nothing matters as long as you are moving and in motion which was exactly the state i was in and that’s why i hate waking up because as soon as my eyes open i want to go but i have to zip zippers and put pressure on velcro straps and clip bungee chords and all these things which waste my time before i can leave and once all that’s done and everything is packed away and loaded up and my feet grip the pedals and the wheels start to turn, then, only then, is the morning ok; previous to this, the morning is just a task
and the desolation and desertion of these roads my god i’ve never seen anything like that but that’s not true because i have seen things like it but not for such great distances and all of it flat and the vanishing point of my vision never vanished and the wind just whipping and not a piece of flora higher than my knee and so the only times i would really stop is when there was a nice culvert under the road that i could get into and get out of the wind and catch my breath and slowly nibble at those snickers bars and read my book and prepare myself to go back out into it and almost every car which wasn’t many at all stopped and this was the thing i still can’t believe because every country has its quirks and here in kazakhstan almost every goldblessed car that stopped was followed by an exiting human being waving a cell phone right in my face snapping pictures and not only snapping pictures but requesting that i pose this way or that way and put my arm over this kid or that kid and it was like i was being choreographed like a marionette on a string and they were jerking me all around and it drove me mad and made me sick until i tried not to let it do so but even after trying it still did so
then i hear this horrendous rumble behind me and i look back and see a monster mac truck bearing down and i say to myself - steady now billy, steady now - and i prepare for the dust storm that will follow and the truck bounces on by, all sixteen wobbly wheels sadly spinning, and then it stops and i prepare to be photographed but this lady gets out and i can’t believe it and i could swear she had a knife in her hands (and i'm thinking - no, no; not yet, the movie can't end here) but then as she gets closer i realize it’s not a knife but a fish, a sun-dried fish, and in her other hand she’s got money and she offers me both and i refuse both but indicate my thanks and then i remember something and what i remember is that i’ve been carrying a piece of hard candy with me since italy and i dig in my bag and get it out and i hand it to her and god how it’s like we’re the only two humans on the planet, and she takes it and it makes me glad and she puts that red ball of sugar and food coloring in her mouth and she smiles at me and goes back to the truck with the fish and the money and i feel like i’ve done a good thing until i remember this magazine article i’d read where it said that food coloring leads to cancer and i want to yell – spit it out! spit it out! – but i don’t because we all must die of something and i wonder what my something will be (i’m pretty sure it will be cancer)
and i’d been told there was some place where i could get water but there was nothing until there was something and i went to it and it was a little house with a little woman inside and i asked if she had water and she said no and i said hell because lord i needed it but then this jeep pulls up and they give me five liters and god bless them and then i asked that little lady if she had any bread i could buy and she said no and i said ok and then i spotted a shaded sheltered roof and asked the little woman if she minded if i had a seat and wrote for a while and she indicated that was fine and while i was writing the little lady climbs up the stairs and hands me a loaf of fresh, warm bread and this is how it is with me, at first people are put-off, but i have a way of growing on people
the atrocious roads deteriorated even further to the point where i just couldn’t take it anymore especially after this town i went through where i got bullied by a gang of 12-year-olds and chased down by the passengers of a car who had given me directions and they were now demanding money so i pushed and yanked and tugged and toiled and slaved my bike across the desert to the railroad tracks because i figured there had to, perhaps, be something better following the tracks themselves or some sort of paralleling maintenance trail and heavens to betsy if there wasn’t a packed down, non-corrugated sandy track right next to those tracks and i hopped on and i rode and rode and rode and then the “road” that i’d abandoned disappeared from sight and i hoped that this “road” i was on wouldn’t do the same but that answer would have to wait because i could see a storm rolling in and i was all eyes open on this forlorn landscape for some sort of roof and hallelujah, hallelujah if i didn’t find a little shed right next to the tracks and i mean less than 3 feet away and then i saw the door to this shed and then i saw that the door had a lock but that the lock was not locked and i took a knee and gave thanks and i opened it up and did a little rearranging and managed to get myself and everything else in there with me and when i was finally lying down on my back and trying to stay awake so i could eat, the first (of many) trains came racing by and everything shaked and shook and bounced and it was my own personal earthquake and the rhythm of the clackety clack popping my ear drums and i said – well, i won’t sleep much tonight – but i did because i was spent
and the next morning i opened the door, or i should say tried to, because the door was now locked and i thought i was done and imagined slowly rotting away and someone finding my body and i also realized i needed to torch all my journals and all the great movies that would be made about me (but i feared not having ultimate input and editing rights) but i pushed a little harder and the door budged and after it budged a bit more it went slamming open and a wind filled my sad little coop and sent all my stuff whirling around in a flurry and so i jumped out, closed the door, peed with the wind (an impressive stream), pried the door back open and hopped in and i actually stayed in this little shanty the entire next day as the storm pounded and i just sort of lay there thinking more than i even think when i’m cycling and i only opened the door to pee and i missed my family and i missed my friends and i missed jelly beans and i looked at my maps and there’s just so far to go and when it all got to be too much i just sort of closed my eyes but sleep wouldn’t come because i was thinking about this song my parents used to sing to me when i was a child and how it used to put me to sleep but now it put a lump in my throat, a sore one
that day, eventually, as they do, became a yesterday and yesterday’s tomorrow was now today
and on this day, despite the never-ceasing ubiquitous winds of kazakhstan, i set out because i had to, not because i had to but because i had to and what a hellish ride it was on this little sandy track and my only joy that day was when a train came by and i was able to get it to blow its whistle for me and that’s a sad life when the blow of a whistle makes you happy and so then those whistles made me sad and i wished they’d all just shut up and leave me to inhaling and swallowing the sand and let me suffer, with sand sticking to my scalp, in peace
and then a little village appears and it’s a sight for sandy eyes because i was hungry and i saw a group of four men and asked them where a store was and they said “wait” so i did and then a kid comes by and while i’m waiting i figure i’ll get some water so i ask him for some water from his well and he comes back with some water with all sorts of floaters and even swimmy things in it and i was already mentally kissing solid bowel movements goodbye because i couldn’t refuse the water after he’d gone and retrieved it from his well but instead of taking gulps i just put it in my water bottles and hoped for the best and thanked him and all the while “waiting” for these guys to show me to a store but they’re gabbing away like schoolgirls and my patience (something i pray for more of each and every day) is wearing thin but i wait and then i realize that, despite it being 11am on a tuesday, one of the four is wickedly bombed and he starts getting aggressive with this other guy and they almost go at it but a third guy keeps pulling them apart and the whole episode makes me sad because angry people (actually all people) make me sad and thankfully they never fight and finally one guy leads me to a “store” which is actually just some woman’s house and she says her “store” is empty and so we knock on three or four more doors and at one, god bless this woman, i get some bread and cookies and am on my way and then this guy starts chasing me for money and i pretend i don’t know what he’s doing and i say “aktkuda, yablikov” (“where are you from" (in kazakh), “apple” (in russian)) and i wave and i smile and am on my way back to the winds which aren’t at my back but, rather, are trying to blow me back and i’m looking for somewhere to eat and read in peace and wouldn’t you know it if i didn’t find a well on my way out of the village and the water had floaters but no swimmy things so i discarded the other water and loaded up on this water and hoped for one-wipe discharges the next day (god how i love the one-wipers)
and so it went for the rest of the day straight into the wind and i just followed this lonely dusty path where cars were unknown and at the end of the day i got to a “town” which had stores that were labeled as stores and i stocked up amidst all the stares and glares and whistles and pointing fingers and laughter and guffaws and right out of town i left the rr tracks to return to the road and i spotted a gas station under construction and i rode over to it and asked the folks if i might use it as a shelter for the night to get out of the wind and get some sleep and they said yes and i said yes; and for them and for that wall and for the tomato paste i bought for dipping my bread into (pretending it was pizza) and for everything in this world i gave thanks and decided from that moment on that i would love all people but i knew that it wouldn’t last and it didn’t
and the next morning, dead calm and not a hint of wind, and i was up and out before the sun and just flying on this road and i sang this song i’d been composing and it was full of melancholy about how i hate being alone but how i’ll never admit this to anyone because i have this introverted, loner image to maintain and such an image makes for a more critically acclaimed movie and i imagined the screening of this “movie of my movement" (the tentative title) in the basement of the museum of modern art in manhattan, the same one jack kerouac and old rex despanol used to go to, and this movie is going to bust all blocksters and make me m(b?)illions and there will be a highly anticipated “part 2” (where i "struggle" with reintegration into "reality" and, in a fit of rage, i swing my arm across my cubiclized desk and i rip off my shirt (will need a body double here...) and go to my basement and clean off my bike and oil the chain and hook up the trailer and i, in a moment of spectacular cinematography, hit the road again and god this scene will go down as the greatest ever and i even started to think of my oscar acceptance speech but then i realized it would be "cooler" to refuse the oscar and just get up there and say, "you can't judge art") and i will become a phony and i will hate myself as a result of all this money that will just pour in and people will respect me because of this money and because the year of my vehicle corresponds with the current year and all the things i will buy with it and i can’t wait to be a person with things and false respect and i also look forward to signing autographs and how i’ll have to wear a disguise just to go get groceries and whereas some people would put on a false beard, i’ll have to put on a false bald chin and then i wondered if they made such a thing and if they don’t it’s no problem because with all the money i have i will command someone to make one for me, and it was with such thoughts that i flew along this road
for two kilometers
and then the “road” turned into one hell of an amusement park ride with pot holes a meter deep and two meters in diameter, i kid you not, and i was picking my way through the surface of the moon and ups and downs and squeezing my brakes lest i get sucked into one of these abysses and then the road was blocked by mounds of white sand for as far as the eye could see and these mounds were un-get-around-able and then i remembered this guy who gave me water hundreds of kilometers ago who’d told me the road “disappeared” around here and so i dropped into the desert and followed the goat turds with a compass and then i ran into a shepherd and he looked at me like i was mad to be where i was and he was dead on
and then way off in the distance i could see a car bouncing and banging and straining each and every one of its screws and rivets and i kept my eyes on it and figured they had to know what they were doing and so i followed it and then they stop and say things i can’t understand but the tone conveyed everything - they, too, thought i was mad and they, too, were dead on
and after 20 kilometers of this, this being utter agony on wheels, where my body and bike took a beating and i never broke 7 km/h and i convinced myself i was hopelessly lost and i cursed everything i could think of and then some, after three hours of this, without any sort of sign or indication, the sandy path suddenly turns into one of the silkiest and smoothiest stretches of asphalt of the entire trip and suddenly the world doesn’t seem so bad after all
but was it really hell? because off in the distance was something, someone, and in this vacuity that is kazakhstan, i had plenty of time to imagine but i never would have guessed i was about to meet little buddha, a name that wasn’t his but one that i gave to him and here is this japanese guy who is walking from japan to portugal pushing a cart with gawdawful beatnik tires and a squeak that drove me mad for the few seconds i could hear it but he was unaware of such worldly squeaks in his enlightened state and when he told me what he was doing i said - good god! - and when i told him what i was doing he said - good buddha! - and his flesh was all sunburnt to a crisp and i offered him some sunscreen but he said no thanks and his english was very poor (compared to my non-existent japanese of course) but we got by and we both thought the other mad (while also realizing we were the only two sane people on this planet) and how i cried inside when i saw his map of kazakhstan which belonged in a museum of ancient relics all falling apart and crumbling and to give you some idea it was like a map of the entire united states on normal size sheet of paper and this was what he was using and i told him about roads and lack of roads ahead and he did the same for me and i showed him where i was thinking of going and he said “no” and he showed me on his map how there was no road but i patted him, consolingly, on the shoulder and showed him my newer and souped-up map that indeed showed a nice yellow line where i planned to go but he still said “no” and in this capacity i had to default to myself as being wiser than little buddha and i gave him some water (i should have given him more) and i also gave him some cheese that had been given to me but the thing is i don’t really like cheese so when i gave it to him it was just like giving that red cup to the little boy in turkey and like giving the fanta to those working men from uzbekistan who took me in and i didn’t feel charitable though i’m sure little buddha thought i was being charitable and i hope there’s not a hell because i may be going to it and when our time came to part i said “sae-oh-na-ra” and then i felt like a fool but he said sae-oh-na-ra back (but with the correct pronunciation) and he sort of bowed with folded hands and i wanted to bow and fold my hands too but i could only bow because i need at least one hand on my handlebars and you need two free hands to properly fold them
ever onwards as ever and when i got mobbed just trying to buy some bread and apples i decided to, for once, not let it bother me and i actually began a performance announcing each and every thing i was doing like (in an overly-theatrical voice, understood by no one but me) “and now i will place the apples into this bag, and look, the apples have disappeared! (and then i clapped for myself and the thing was, they clapped too) and next i will take a sip of water, amazing isn’t it? and now to place a glove on my hand, watch as each finger finds it’s very own hole!” and they enjoyed it and i enjoyed it and it was then i realized how to deal with the stares and with the - after i explain how i do not speak their language - continual questions in their language and so from that day forth i just spoke of things and events and stories i wished to write down regarding my life and so it went like this:
sheeblo bartuska clantochik?
and so there are three people in a car and the windshield wipers are going whap – shabap – whap – shabap and these three people are actually all me and i need to work out the details but this could be the novel that needs to be written, and i'm gonna write it!
intonshka patom ladonsey?
the king of spain and i walked through that mahoosuc notch in maine and, i’m telling you, there was ice down in that notch man, even in july, ice!
petrenko ladka spasiba?
and this other story, right now i’m calling it “a day without blinking”, it’s coming together but i can’t figure out how to write it properly the main concern being whether to use more punctuation or not and i’m leaning towards not because the thing is when people read, they create their own punctuation which can change the entire story and i would like to leave that power to the reader
and that’s how i started to deal with the language barrier and it was hard at first but then it got easier and the greatest part was, after my responses, they would nod in approval
that night i slept at a railroad station having received permission from two nice attendants who never bothered me and i ate my carrot/onion/cumin soup and oatmeal in peace and i turned the pages of my book and then curled up for a nice heavy sleep and the next day at the next town, i don’t know what happened but something must have because folks just started giving me stuff and this one beautiful girl insisted on having her picture taken with me and i put my arms around her (and enjoyed it) and she must have too because she ran into a store and came out with some cookies for me and this was only a prelude because then people started trying to give me money which i refused but i couldn’t figure it out and once i got going so many cars stopped for photos and after the photos i had heaps of apples and bread and even gum and i finally started having to tell people i didn’t have any more room for all this stuff and at the end of the day when a perfectly timed village appeared i went to the local well and there was a family there and my lord almighty did they have their daughter with them and they were from the “city” several hundred kilometers away and were down visiting family out here in the desert and they spoke a little english but who knows (or cares) what they said because my eyes were on the daughter and she was wearing this midriff shirt and hell if i tried not to look but hell if i didn’t and she kept raising her arms above her head and pulling her hair back and that midriff shirt just kept going up and up (and up!) and mercy me, mercy me and don’t hold this or these thoughts that you are thinking that i was thinking against me because we are all sinners
this was also where i made my turn onto the road that i would follow for 500 km, the same road that little buddha told me didn’t exist (god bless his soul)
but it did exist and everything exists or it wouldn’t be and since everything is how can you get around it? but i must say that with each kilometer that passed under me the road got concerningly less road’ish but i kept moving because i couldn’t muster up the will to care and then a helluva herculean wind storm rose up and god bless that family that took me in and let me sleep with them and we all sat down to drink tea together and the thing was while i was changing my clothes, naked from the waist down while removing a sock, the woman of the house walks in on me but two things were in my favor the first being that my derrière was “facing” a wall and, because i was bent over removing a sock, my shirt hung low enough to cover my loins, and though she lingered a moment longer than what would normally be called for in such circumstances, i am fairly certain i maintained my dignity and that was good because things get awkward once a glance of genitals takes place because if such a gander had taken place the next time i saw her i would be thinking – you saw the external manifestation of my reproductive organs – and she would be thinking, “i saw his haunches”
i spent the entire next day with this family and, taking shelter from the wind behind their barn, the father and i made mud bricks and i didn’t have the heart (or the language capacity) to tell him that i didn’t think these bricks would hold and maybe i was wrong because i come from that world (though i am not a part of, but rather apart from, it) where when you need something like bricks or, actually, when you need anything you just go buy it but he is from the world where when you need something you usually don’t get it and if you do get it you have to somehow make it yourself and so these mud and water bricks just might do the trick for him and sometimes people from the “need-ok then-buy” world look at other people living so “primitively” and say that they’re lazy and “behind” but it’s all about what means you have available to you and the way the world is “progressing” now what we have is people who live in homes with mud floors and leaf roofs and no running water (nothing inherently wrong with this) but they have mobile phones and locally available high speed internet and dvd players spinning discs of graphic violence (numbing the kids to it) and it’s like they’ve warp-zoned “ahead” but somewhere in the middle missed a step and i don’t know what to think of it though some days it dominates my thoughts
next day after tea i decided to leave despite the howling winds and it made me sick to my stomach to leave and the father even told me to stay but i said i must go (and once i left, i wondered why i must do anything and i thought about going back) and before i left, the father wrote down the dates covering a two week period and after many charades and riddles and soliloquies i realized what he was telling me was that this area of kazakhstan experienced the strongest winds during these times, coming from the east (and me, yes yes, heading east) and that fourteen day duration started on the very day that had dawned that very morning and my bowels thundered and my mouth dried up and i exhaled through my nose and hit the road which had now been downgraded to a dirt track but it was still going and i knew i was more enlightened than little buddha (though i began to have my doubts)
and i got to the next village and could go no further and was desperate to eat with my eyes seeking out an appropriately positioned wall of some sort to shield the wind and i found an old deserted building full of trash and glass but it got me out of the blusters and i loved it until it wasn’t deserted anymore because people moseyed in to see what on earth had landed in their village and there i am on the ground with my back to the wall eating all my crumbs with book on lap and there were two people that said, “dirty, no, come to home” but i couldn’t be bothered to pack it all up and be led to a home where people, with the kindest of hearts, would make a fuss over me so i said “dirty, yes, i like” and then while they stared at me i stared right back at them and i’m sure they thought that was rude but then they realized that what they thought was rude was the very thing they were doing (or so i rationalized it) and so they left and then i was alone and sad again and that’s what i wanted so i was happy
back to wind, face to wind, side to wind, everywhere wind - back to my life and i says to meself - why hIrSch? why? - and there was no answer so i just kept going and i went
and i hate the wind and during it i say i’d prefer the rain and then when it rains i hate the rain and during it i say i’d prefer the sun and then when it’s sunny i hate the heat and during it i say i’d prefer the cold and then when it’s cold i hate the cold and during it i say i’d prefer the wind and in terms of weather, no country beat me harder than kazakhstan (with a close second going to albania (and third going to kosovo))
and then i got to a big village and i knew this would be the last lation of civil to be seen for quite some time and i was glad for that and i loaded up on food and i loaded up on water and they all stared and asked me questions and i said - i know, i know, i should have never broken up with her but i did and it’s over and it was a mistake and i regret it but what the hell can i do about it now? - and then i tried to decide if i believed that or not and my audience just laughed so then i said, “pickle cow” and they laughed again and i did too and then i asked where the road out of town went and they said “no” and so i just went and kept asking people and people kept saying “no” and then i picked up a crowd of kids who good god stuck to me stuck to me like suction cups and they said “no” too but they were kids so what did they know and then the road ended and they shook their fingers and said “no” again and i hated the world and i looked at the map and i saw some train tracks and figured i could follow them and i heard a train and followed the sound and found the tracks with the cavalcade of at heel and i started pushing my bike next to the tracks and in minutes i was deep, i mean moored, in that loose sand and in less than ten feet the bike submarined and it fell over and i fell over it and the kids laughed and i hated it all and i picked it all up and went to the other side of the tracks and i went for some distance, maybe 30 feet and the kids pushing too and i loved them and thought yes, i can do this, and then i nose-dived again and i fell and i smelled something and the kids showed me the carcass of a nearby wolf (no, not a coyote, a wolf) and said the hell to it all and i went back to the gold-blessed town and got more food and rode my bike not knowing where i was going (but going) and there was a cement house under construction and i rode right into it and hid for five minutes and held my breath hoping i really had shook those unshakeable kids and i peeked out the window and clear was the coast and i hid myself in a corner and then heard voices and realized the houses around me were occupied but it was dark at this point and i was full of exhaustion and orchiotomy and a sense of dread and i couldn’t care but i didn’t want anyone to know where i was except me and god and so that whole night when i peed i did it in a water bottle so i wouldn’t have to leave my hovel and risk a discovery of myself by another and i did this deed in a red water bottle because i told myself that if i ever forgot which water bottle had the piss in it i would have to “stop” and think about it and stop signs are red and the bottle was red so if i brought that bottle to my lips i would see the red and say stop and these are the methodologies of me and in this way i never drank my own piss (i don’t consider piss a bad word and if you do i am sorry; interestingly, in fifth grade i got in trouble for saying piss because the teacher who heard me thought it was naughty and my punishment was thirty minutes in a cubicle near the principal’s office with a sheet of paper and a pencil and it was called the “opportunity room” and i had to write down a “plan of action” as to what i’d do next time i thought of saying a word like piss and i wrote something and it was approved and i was released and the first thing i did on the way back to my classroom was take a piss)
and that night as i ate i tried to enjoy my book but my mind wouldn’t let me because it kept saying “hey man you don’t know where you’re going tomorrow and you’re going to go back where you know it’s not possible and try to make it possible and it still won’t be possible and even though you know this you’re still going to go ahead and do it” and i hated my mind, especially when it said, “and, by the way, little buddha was right” and i peed in the red water bottle and got some on my hands and glory be to all things holy i said and wiped it off and laid on my back and then the sun came up as it always does and i stared at things until i mustered up the energy to move which took quite a bit of mustering that morning but i had a new idea
and the idea was this – that if a train can go, i can go – and so i went back to the two sets of tracks and started pushing my bike between them, something i hadn’t thought of yesterday, and it was good, fist-sized gravel and though it wasn’t ride-able it was push-able but then there were these three things:
1. because these tracks were atop a steeply-angled stone mound about five meters higher than the surrounding wasteland, if two trains coming in opposite directions happened to come in such a way that i was unfortunately located between them as they passed, there wouldn’t be room for the three of us and in a battle of steel vs. steel vs. flesh i would be smushed
2. i remembered in all my previous followings of railroad tracks that they eventually funnel down to just one track in which case my only option would be to, for over 100 miles, like a bucking bronco, push my bike up and over the ties between the one set of rails and that, again, when a train came, i’d be a goner
3. the railroad police came chasing after me and gave me looks of, “don’t even think about it buddy”
and so my road ended and i admitted it and i needed to figure out what to do and what i did was this - i headed back the very way i had come through the desert just to get to this dead-end of a town, and the wind picked up and the clouds were rolling in and i looked at my maps and i said dam me like a river if i’m going to backtrack 200 miles and i said to hell with this town and then i realized i was taking it all too seriously (as is my tendency) and so my maps showed a sad lonely road that, if it existed, could take me in the opposite direction of which i needed to go, but, it took me in a direction in which i could get to a road that could, if it too existed, take me where i ultimately wanted to go and that’s when i leaned my bike and myself against a wind-breaking wall, and every time (a total of 6 over the course of two hours) i heard an engine i jumped out to the road and threw out my thumb because to hell if i was going to ride into the wind and rain to go backwards to then go forwards and that sixth car was a goldblessed postal service vehicle and they told me to hop in and i did despite there not being room and we contorted ourselves, my bike and trailer, and all the mail and boxes in such a way that the doors could close and then we went and my leg was bent in a dreadfully painful position but i didn’t say anything because when you get a ride you take the ride and you take what you get and what i got was a leg that fell soundly and deeply asleep and i couldn’t walk when, two and a half hours later, we stopped
they dropped me off at a gawdawful cross roads in which the road had been completely obliterated and dug up and then abandoned and it was just mud tracks carved out of the rainy mess that had been a few yesterdays ago and so i stopped at a road-side café/restaurant/brothel and got some water and didn’t sin (nor was i tempted) and was on my way questioning this entire bicycle trip and if it would even matter if i were to die because i’m not really doing anything anyway and of course my family and friends would be sad (but that would all be temporary and mopped up with kleenex) and what would my obituary say (i better write that up right now) and there would be some weeping and flowers (that would, in due time, die too) and it would be at this point that people would obligingly say things like “he was a good man….we loved him so much” (but why don’t they say that now?) and then there'd be a funeral (though i don't want one) and folks would be done up all in black to "symbolize" their mourning and then their mobile phones would vibrate reminding them to return to work and i guess they'd hug my mom and shake my dad's hand and offer condolences to my sister and then, well, people would get on with their lives because that’s what people do and i’d be gone and they’d be there and that would be that and initially i would be a fervent memory but the fervor would be blunted and then maybe i'd be a candle lit yearly but no flame is eternal and the refrigerator photo would be removed under the guise of "moving on" and so then i'd just be an un-double-clicked digital picture with a file name like "img_3223" stuck in some folder hidden away in some archive and eventually everyone that ever knew me would be dead and so in the end, i'd be resorted to the nothingness from which i originated and so it would be like i never was which makes me question if i really am
and so, with this frame of mind i trudged on and after the crossroads was out of sight and as far as one’s eye could see in any direction there was no existence of anything and i wondered if i were not already dead and when i’d convinced myself i was, i was sad, not because i was dead, but because i realized that in all my years not once had i told anyone other than family members that i had loved them and then i wondered whether i were in heaven or hell and i think i was somewhere inbetween and, convinced of this also, i thought about the catholic perception of purgatory and wondered if anyone would pray me out of here
and of course the rain began and then an outpost appeared in the distance and i told myself i could be there in fifteen minutes and an hour and a half later i was there and i went to it and the two kind souls there told me i could sleep in a filthy trailer which was a-ok with me and then they told me to follow them and the next thing i knew i went from thinking i was stuck in purgatory (waiting for people to pray me out of it) to wrangling some horses and there i was and there they were and a lasso landed on a neck and i’m a spectator to it all and i was glad to be alive and when it was raining the next morning with the pitter and patter of metallic twang on my rusty chamber i just lay there until i got up and they indicated i should stay the day and there was no argument from me and then we were off to a fenced in field just full of sheep and these boys, god bless them, these boys started shearing these sheep with these horribly dull and unaccommodating hand scissors and my job was to tie up the sheep’s legs and i used a pretty sweet slip knot that they liked and so i was proud and as they struggled for an hour with each sheep i was thinking of my time in new zealand where i stayed a night on a sheep farm and it was all mechanized and they could do in five minutes what it took these guys 12 times as long to do and how that’s “progress” but these boys took their time and a cigarette break between each sheep and i remembered those blokes in new zealand rushing here and there and always checking their watches and sweating and trying to go faster and faster because faster is more and more is more money for shiny’er things and they just seemed weary waiting for the clock to say 12:00 noon so they could have a cigarette and a bite but my brothers here in kazakhstan, man, they were cutting up and laughing at me laughing at the sheep and laughing at life and hell if i didn’t properly lock the gate and all those sheep got loose and i thought they were going to have my neck but they just laughed some more and we herded them back up and got them in and i realized that what i was witnessing was the “progress” that gets my vote because i’d rather have time more than money any day though i hate the fact that i do need money in this world and the day somebody can tell me why i can hand someone i don’t know a piece of paper with the picture of a dead man on it and then that person whom i don’t know will hand me things like q-tips or yogurt or a couple of bananas is the day i will have this world figured out
and then i started hallucinating way off in the interminable distance that i saw asphalt and i wouldn’t let myself believe it but i kept looking and squinting and hoping so badly and i could swear i saw a black ribbon just for me and then i told myself - no, no, it’s not true - because by telling this to myself there were two possible outcomes:
1. indeed i was hallucinating and there was no asphalt in which case i could take pride in the fact that i was indeed right by not getting my hopes up
2. there would be asphalt and i could finally just ride again and i wouldn’t care about being wrong because i would be riding and i could devote my mind to things other than avoiding this pothole and trying not to get stuck in that patch of loose sand because i do not like to waste my mind on such things
and glory be to god there was asphalt and i was wrong and didn’t care and i started listening to music and pounding the pedals and actually going faster than 10 km/h and the sun was out and no cars to be seen and i wondered if those fellows were shearing the rest of the sheep or just playing cards instead and i hoped for them and hated how i knew i would never see them again until we all (including you) get to heaven and even though i hate cigarettes i hoped that in heaven those guys would have their cigarettes because i could see in their eyes that their heaven would surely include cigarettes and maybe ultimately heaven is self-defined because everyone has a different concept of it and maybe it’s this way with god too because surely people have different concepts of god and the only problems these different conceptions cause are when people don’t allow for these different conceptions because i tell you this: if you were an eight year old boy in india right now and you only spoke some dialect of hindi and all you knew was hinduism and you tended your water buffalo every day and knew nothing of ballet and knew nothing of jesus would you be a christian? and i also tell you this: if you were an eight year old girl in delaware right now and you only spoke english and all you knew was christianity and you just started ballet lessons every day and knew nothing of water buffalo and knew nothing of ganesh would you be a hindu?
i found a mound of sand and put my tent behind it and did my yoga naked in the desert and sand clung to me in the most inconvenient of places as a result and i cursed myself a fool and ate my dinner and went to sleep and woke up to a thundering downpour and cursed myself a fool again for not putting the rain cover on my tent which was hard to do at 2am and i couldn’t get any stay on the tent pegs in the loose sand but managed somehow to tie it all down and then went to sleep again until i woke up to a sandy and soggy everything, but, as if an apology, the skies were blue and the sun was out and i did my morning yoga fully clothed
and i’m looking at my maps and feeling the wind and realizing it’s going to be a long time until i get to the next “village” which i’d been told only sells camel milk and “might” have a well and so i said oh well
then this van is on my tail and it’s equalizing my speed of 12 km/h and surely this guy will pass me but he doesn’t he’s just there right on my back tire and it’s driving me mad, like someone reading over my shoulder and breathing audibly, so i finally pull over and these two nice guys get out and give me a bottle of pepsi and they’re awestruck and i must admit that sometimes i enjoy striking awe and then they say goodbye and they’re off heading in the exact same direction as me and with an empty van to boot and i watch them vanish and wonder to whom i’ll give the pepsi because i don’t like sugary, fizzy drinks but i decide to keep it because if that camel milk is fermented (which it usually is) and if indeed there is no well, i could be stuck and i start remembering the times my dad and i used to play tennis and i long for those days but they are days that are gone just like everything, as soon as it happens, is immediately over
and then there is a van coming towards me and there is a joyousness of honks and waves and it gets closer and closer and i just know this is my big break: a hollywood screenwriter and film agent must be in this vehicle and it’s time to sign contracts and see checks with many commas and zeros and i knew it would happen and i says to meself – be cool now hIrSch, be cool – and i also says – be firm now, hIrSch, be firm….the beard stays - and then i also wonder if they’ll ask me to do nude scenes and i don’t know how i feel about this but realize i better decide quickly and the one thing i’ve always wondered about nude scenes in movies is when the actor’s or actress’s family sees the movie but i decide - ok, ok, i'll do the nude scenes but when my family comes to watch, they will have to cover "me" up with those black boxes
alas alas, but it is those same guys in the van that gave me the pepsi and they’ve come back and they show me where they live and that they want me to come to their home and stay for a day or two and they tell me to toss it all in their van and away we’ll go and it’s times like these, yes, it’s times like these and we wrestle my stuff in the van and go to god who knows (or cares) where and i’ll never know if the camel’s milk was fermented or not but i will know that once we got where we were going, initially, the grandma didn’t take to me but eventually she did and also how on the one day i decided to take a walk and the three kids from the house insisted on coming with me and we went and they told me where to go and there were all these fountains of water and they were jumping in them and cooling off and running and i was worried they would fall and hurt themselves and in languages they couldn’t understand i was saying - be careful; easy does it now…. - but they never slowed down and kids are resilient anyway and then the one kid climbed up something but couldn’t climb down it so i had to pick him up and help him and the way he clung to me let me know that not only did he depend on me but that he trusted me and for one brief moment i felt like a father, but that one brief moment was enough
and while i was staying with this family we kept exchanging this phrase book they had so that we could, however minimally, communicate, and this phrase book was the strangest of things because in addition to having useful anecdotes, it also had some strange ones like, “i am sorry i am wearing gloves” and “everything is so gay around here!” and the one guy handed me the phrase book and pointed to these two phrases: “congratulations” and then “you are a boy” and i didn’t know what to make of it so i handed it back to him pointing at “that’s very funny” and we both laughed; me, out of necessity, him, seemingly genuinely
and then they tucked the phrase book away and turned on the tv and some sort of show was on and not a word i understood but, despite myself, i ended up falling in love with the actress and it was really because of her shoulders the skin on top of which was drawn tight and it was shiny too and that’s a combo that kills me (in the best of ways) and what can i say other than to hell with legs and breasts just give me shoulders like that and i’m yours (until you decide you no longer want me which won’t take long)
and later that evening at the entrance to a little grocery store i opened the door for the man behind me and he was aghast that i would hold the door for him and he wouldn’t hear of it so i entered and held it open behind me and he smiled and bowed and while i was buying my ends and odds he was doing the same and when we ran into each other again in the store we had one of those silly moments where we needed to recognize the fact that yes, we remembered each other from the entrance door, so we both sort of smiled and nodded and then got on with it and then i didn’t see him anymore and i paid for my groceries and left the store and there he was and so we acknowledged each other yet again but this time he approached me and handed me a bag of groceries and i didn’t know what to make of it and in an english that, god bless him, i can tell he must have been practicing the whole time he waited, he hands me this sack of food and says, “these are the things for you” and of course i refuse them and of course he refuses my refusals and then he hands me money which i really refuse and tuck right back in his shirt pocket and then he puts it in the bag with the rest of the stuff and insists and i tells meself – hIrSch, why fight it, it’s only two bucks – so i thank him and he leaves and in this bag is a liter of apple juice and various fried bread products which i just can’t stomach and so, as i’m leaving town, i give one sandwich-like item to a sad old man who doesn’t know what to make of it but i scurry off before he knows what’s even happening and i give the fried bread thingys to these garbage guys who are working like slaves and they’re in disbelief too and then, yes yes, i begin to feel awful that they’re attributing goodness to me because really i’m just redistributing things (just like the red cup to the boy in turkey, the fanta to the uzbekis, and the cheese to little buddha) and, god forgive me, i kept the apple juice and the two bucks and repent i will, one of these days
i left on a rainy day and having gone about ten kilometers i wished i’d picked up some more bread and heaven’s harps if i wasn’t riding next to this muslim cemetery full of mausoleums and the caretaker pops out and waves me over and gives me two loaves of the very bread i would have purchased had i remembered to and we bonded through beards and i didn’t have the heart to tell him i wasn’t a muslim (because maybe i am but just don’t know it) and he was saying some sort of prayer and closing his eyes and so i too closed my eyes and he thanked allah (but i was thanking him) and i left and wondered how and why that happened and then i thought about why anything at all happens and how and why we try to attribute meaning to things and i realized that by considering such foolhardiness i was defeating the purposeless purpose of it all
and so i needed some tea because tea solves things and i went to a café, really just a family’s home who’d decided to serve hot drinks, not for tea but for hot water for my thermos and soggy tea bags and the man and woman got all excited when they found out i was from the “united states” and so they opened the door to this side room and in this room a girl, a young woman, slept and they yelled at her to get up and she didn’t move and i didn’t know what was happening and i was going to leave but then they told me to sit down and they started making these delectable hot milk drinks for me and i couldn’t complain so i sat down and they just kept yelling at this girl and they told me to come to the very room in which she slept and it was all getting a little bizarre but i did as told and they pointed at her but really all i could see was a mop of hair poking out from under blankets and then my lord almighty in heaven above the mother and father both go to the blankets and yank them off the girl and as it’s all lifting up i’m wondering if kazakhi’s sleep in the buff and vishnu forgive me if i didn’t hope it were so, but she was fully clothed and reluctantly got up and wouldn’t let me see her (though i’d already seen her) until she had washed up and so then she came back from the well and the mother and father told her to start getting me drinks and god how i had to pee but i meditated out of that and so then it’s me on one end of the table and the three of them on the other end, and the girl, admittedly, was cute and then i was taken aback because the father makes a circle with his thumb and pointer finger and puts a finger on his other hand through that very finger-circle, and he does this over and over (and over) all the while raising his eyebrows, and then he points at his daughter and a cold sweat breaks out and i clear my already clear throat and what do i say to this – ok, sir, that’s fine…we’ll be back in 5 (ok, ok 2) minutes - and i’m reeling and he keeps putting that finger through the other finger-created hole and at this point he’s saying, “yes, yes?” and i’m looking at the daughter who is smiling and the mother is nodding and doesn’t seem to mind and i’m wondering if the daughter had brushed her teeth until i realize that the “entering” finger is the ring finger and that this man is indeed propositioning me, but not for that but rather for the marriage of his daughter (which, ultimately does imply that) and i shake my head and say no, no thank you, and then they gave me an apple and the daughter gave me her mobile phone number (still got it) and i leave
and some days later, days and days of desert, i’m riding into this town and this car is behind me and they are just laying on the horn and i ride as far off the road as possible and they’re still honking away and i don’t know what’s happening so i turn on a dirt road to let these jokers pass and they follow me and finally i stop and wonder what will happen and what happens is this guy gets out and speaks english (my first english encounter) and tells me to follow him to his house and that i should stay with him a few days and he will take me on a tour of the town after we go to his cotton fields and sift through seeds so the next thing i know i’m in his house with his entire family sipping tea and eating cucumbers and tomatoes and the next next thing i know is that we’re out in these irrigated fields opening huge bags of cotton seeds and sorting out the things that don’t belong and the next next next thing i know is that we’re in the town at kazakhstan’s “most historical and famous mosque” (how weary “sightseeing” makes me) and then we go to the bazaar and man it was great being with these folks until the following day when we went back to the cotton fields and something had gone wrong with the guy who was supposed to cut the grass and this brouhaha breaks out amongst all these guys and punches were swung man, they were swung hard, and i shot off and hid myself in a shed not wanting any involvement in it and i tried not to hear the sounds of knuckles and flesh but i heard it and when we finally went back to the house that night the guy who spoke english was bragging of his victory to me and asking me why i was so quiet and i told him that fighting only leads to fighting and he disagreed saying that now his fields were cut and i didn’t know who was right but i knew that i would leave early the next morning because i had a sickness in my stomach after what i saw and that next morning i snuck out like a mouse and wrote a note thanking them for their hospitality and left it at that
that afternoon i had a helluva time at the local bazaar because i couldn’t get the ladies to sell me the bruised, half-rotten apples that are 1/5th the cost and i kept telling them that those were the ones i preferred but they wouldn’t hear of it nor lower their prices on the others and so i wandered some more and found some dates and got those instead and right outside of town there was this river, the first river i’d seen since god knows when and i was determined to camp by it but jiminy crickets if i couldn’t find a place to hide from the world and so i pushed on and as night was coming i found a place in a house that was under-construction and had my second thoughts but not third and so i moved in and hoped the world would let me be which it all too often doesn’t but that night it did and when a texas-sized tempest rolled through and there i was with walls and a roof i was so thankful for everything i could think of…
…until, at a gawdawful hour in the morning, a man wanders in with a flashlight and i, one eye open hoping the flashlight won’t fall on me (until it does and all my hope evaporates), tell myself – well pal, here it is, this is where you die – and so, illuminated, with sign-language, i try to tell this man what the story is (i wish i knew myself) and god bless the human race if he isn’t inviting me to come to his home but what he doesn’t realize is that before dawn (at this point, just a matter of hours away) i will be on the road and that it is easier for me to stay here but i can tell he is appalled that i would be sleeping on the dirt floor that is beneath me and i try to tell him that i love dirt floors and how i can’t sleep in beds anymore anyway and that dirt isn’t dirty and i’d rather sleep on dirt than on some mattress that hundreds of people doing god knows what had slept on before me and how i’d take this over a sterile hotel room any day because i hate those kind of places because they’re just too clean and i feel like i’m in a hospital waiting for the door to open and the doctor to tell me that yes, as i always knew, i do have cancer and that i’ve got three months to live but there is a mutual misunderstanding and this guy really does want me to come to his home but he’s already lit a cigarette and i can’t stand the things, god how the smell just turns my stomach and those instant headaches i get, and i tell him no thank you i will stay here and then he abandons his futile efforts and just leaves and i don’t know what to make of it so i close my eyes and all the bells in hell if he doesn’t come back with bedding for me to put down under me and pillows too and this and that and the world is a kind, cruel place and that is for sure and the next morning i don’t know what to do with all the stuff so i shake it out and fold it and leave it there and i myself leave and the storm has come and gone just like i come and go and what would you do on the 89th day of your three months left to live?
and this is a day where i know where i will stay at night which is something i never know but today i do because a guy from spain had told me i could stay with him and so i ride to his town loving the fact that i know where i will sleep and we meet and he opens his apartment to me and then another guy from england comes too who is motorcycling around the world and later that night everyone is all set to “go out” but nothing makes me more nauseous than the act of “going out” because, god forgive me, i am just so weary of meeting people and so i tell them i will stay in and they won’t hear of it and god bless their souls if they don’t even kindly offer to treat me to “drinks” and say how i need to “get out and have a good time” but they don’t realize the best time will be had by me when i am alone and with my books and my journal and my strawberries and my dates and my yogurt and my brown bread (and my peace) and so finally they surrender and when that door closes and it’s just me and no one else and no one staring at me and no one scrutinizing every movement i make and no one pointing at me like a monkey man oh man it feels great and i even jump because of it and those jokers didn’t get back until 3am and two hours later is when i wake up and do my yoga and align my chakras and head out for a walk to watch the city wake up and stake my first claim on the days strawberries because last night’s were a bit moldy though i ate them anyway
and i ended up staying two nights and the second night was a repeat of the same and “c’mon, come out with us” and i, having thanked them for the offer, again declined and i wondered what would happen the next morning at 5am if i were to have demanded that everyone join me in some yoga but i don’t do this, i don’t demand things from people verbally, only in writing, that way i don’t bother people but rather leave them in control without having to waste valuable time in people-to-people interactions
and then the desert was behind me and i was actually climbing a mountain pass and lord how i let loose on the other side and pulled into a tea house to get some water and there was the kazakhstan military waving me over to sit with them and i didn’t really want to but i did and they bought me tea and coffee and bread and vegetables and i told them i would prefer to just sit with them but they insisted and i’m not going to argue and then they broke out the vodka and how disappointed they were when i didn’t partake but i didn’t partake and it was sad watching them all get drunk and seeing how their personality and demeanor changed and then this russian guy shows up and joins them and the russian says he speaks english and he looks at me and he says, “hello” and then he says “flowers” and that was his english and then he got drunk too and if what i was having was a “cultural experience” then to hell with culture because these guys were soon to be on the road again, driving, and that makes me sick and when they all started singing and slamming fists on the table i was finally able to slip away having previously been pulled back down to my seat innumerable times and i left just in time for the rain to start and my mood was foul but then i saw a compound about a mile off the road that i was sure no one lived in until i approached it and saw laundry hanging on a line but they, after the bewilderment subsided, were nice enough and showed me a place where i could sleep but it was right next to their kitchen table and i had been eyeing this other place that i casually investigated and it offered some, though minimal, privacy but they said it was dirty and i said i didn’t care and so i set it all up and it poured all night and was still going in the morning but i left anyhow because i could see the hint of the smile of the sun in the mountains and i put all my faith in that
and that morning i stopped at a restaurant and a hot girl gave me hot water so i could brew my tea and she also said i could eat inside but i preferred outside because my crumbs and i always make such a mess and i prefer to sit on the ground with my back against something and my legs straight out in front of me and my book on my lap and my food in my hands and my tea to my right and the road in front of me because i always gotta keep an eye on the road and she really was beautiful and i was stinky but she came out and brought me a coffee and because she was beautiful i drank it and she spoke english and it turns out she was from uzbekistan and she told me she would like to talk to me after i’d finished my meal and i said ok and when it came time for us to talk we talked and, as always as ever, it came out how she had a “boyfriend” and so i just couldn’t continue the conversation knowing i was already defeated but i did find it interesting that she came to kazakhstan to work so that she could make $150 per month versus the $85 she would have made at an identical job in uzbekistan and then i thought of people in the states who spend that much in a day and i wondered how this world is what it is and how if some mathematician added up all the money in the world and then divided this amount by the total (and ever exponentially increasing) population of this world and came up with a figure and then if we took this figure and everyone had to abide by it and if the figure was, let’s say, $32,000 and your worth was $78,000 then that would mean you would have to give $46,000 and if your worth was $11,000 then that would mean you would receive $21,000 from the funds collected from the former type of people and we’d have this redistribution of wealth and we’d all be equal but the “32” or higher people might not be willing to do it because they would feel that it was “their right” to keep their money because they had “earned” it and that’s okay i guess and where i fit into all this doesn’t matter because i hate money and each and every time i have to spend it i feel sick and anyhow the girl really was gorgeous and i stole one last glance before i left but then i left and she was just a memory like everything is in my life because i always leave things as soon as i find them
and now the sun was full-on and there was a wind at my back and the cycling was glorious and i stopped to pee and right in the very precise and exact place where i peed was a frenzy of ants so i altered the direction of my stream and tried to see what was going on and these ants were engaged in an epic battle with these two worms and these ants man they were all over the worms and the worms were twitching and jerking and jolting and convulsing and spasm’ing and doing everything they could but it was useless and i stood there for some time and watched it and stood there long enough to see one of the worms ultimately surrender to its own death and it no longer moved and because of this surrender it was now at peace and then i thought how life is just one big struggle and the inevitability of its end and the subsequent peace as a result of that end mocks at the futility of each and every thing we do in this messed up, crazy world and every day things die and every day things are born and we are all on one journey here and it starts at the cradle and ends at the casket but i’m convinced there is something beyond the casket, what exactly i don’t know, and i’m comfortable with that and content with that and would never try to force it down anyone’s throat because what is going to happen will happen regardless of what one believes will happen
and i thought about this for some time while on the road, this journey that we’re all on and how we’re all on it together and it’s maybe the one thing in the world that everyone of us can agree on - that there was a time when we weren’t and there is a time when we will no longer be - but it’s like there’s this thing inside me, i mean maybe it’s located in the dead center of my chest or something, and it’s like it’s this spot or core or locality of all that is me and i sort of imagine it as eternally glowing and i just don’t see how it can ever not glow and so i’ve just recently decided that this is my soul and it will always be and when this flesh has decayed and these bones are dust i hope that one day it can shine a little more brightly
later that day the smile of the sun disappeared and this bank of clouds that had been under construction for hours had now been fully built and i could tell an inevitable inundation was about to be upon me and so i was about 50 km from almaty, a major city in kazakhstan, where i, god willing, would be the next morning and i took a detour to this little town and on the way i saw this huge brick building and thought maybe i could crash pad it there but upon investigation i stirred a dog which awoke a man and he was thankfully a kind soul and he was from kygyzstan and i did my sign language (a song and dance i have perfected) and i was checking out this huge place with domed ceiling and i didn’t know what it was but i wanted to sleep there and he was, seemingly (i’m never certain) ok with it though he did offer me his house but that just adds a layer of complication so i indicated i would go to town, get some food, and come back and then on the way into town i see this abandoned compound but hell if it wasn’t surrounded by a fence but when i got to the unmanned gate the fence had a gap and i stealthed through it and found the home of homes for the night and it involved no people interaction and so i was ecstatic because the less people the better and especially since i could see that storm thickly brewing in the mountains but jumpstartmyheart if i didn’t round the corner of a brick wall only to come upon a beast of a dog but thank the lord and all his angels that surround me if that dog weren’t on a chain and if that chain weren’t there i don’t think i would be here and so a worry grew in my heart not only that the dog would be barking all night but also about betraying the man from kyrgyzstan who was expecting me but to hell with it all i said i needed to get to the bazaar and get food and so i shot off into town and god how i rushed around trying to get all my crumbs before that squall started but i had to go here for brown bread and there for my natural yogurt and over that way for dates and to that old man for my rotten apples and it was too late because what began as a few innocent drops was soon transformed into something biblical if hell on earth can be biblical because that’s what it was, a deluge of a downpour, and i yanked my bike into the shelter of the bazaar adroitly avoiding the tomatoes and eggplants and everyone staring and pointing and gawking at me and i vomited in the back of my throat because of it but glory be to god in the highest it rained and people from every nook and cranny of this village were taking refuge and, to all you dear little children who are still with me in this story, you gotta listen to me and believe me because it rained brothers and sisters and it pounded, i mean it beat down on the tin roof and you couldn’t talk to anyone (a blessing) or hear anything (an additional blessing) and it was a cacophony of crashing condensation and everyone was just standing awestruck in silence and then, god strike me if i’m lying, the water started coming up through the goldblessed floor and yes man, and everyone starts going mad and they’re shouldering (in an effort of salvation) sacks of potatoes and onions and cucumbers and scurrying this way and that way desperately seeking higher ground and i’m just watching it all holding my bike upright, wanting to help but with nowhere to lean my bike, and the rain, man, good god that rain blowing in from every which way and hammering down and the water coming up in more places now and crates of tomatoes start floating and those bent-at-the-waist ladies over there trying to sweep the water and my heart ached for them and then – god it happened so quick – my feet are covered in 4 inches of vile water and you can probably guess what i said so i push my bike through the chaos back to the lady i bought the dates from because i remembered she was on higher ground (and i could tell she had a crush on me) and i smile at her and the rain is still just pulsating and thrashing down and i just stand there for over an hour, just standing there for over an hour, and then all the lights snap crackle and pop and cut off and candles come out and the water is still coming up from the floor and down from the sky and sideways from the wind and just thumping from every which way and those ladies are still brooming their losing battles and finally everyone stops panicking and they know that this is life and that what will come will come and that it will all be ok somehow even if we all die because maybe this structure will collapse on us and so there is just this passive acceptance and the hecticity of commotion calms down (but not that storm!) and everyone just stands and waits to see what’s next and after an entire hour of no one paying an ounce of attention to me (god how i loved it), i soon got surrounded by girls and women and the thing is, god the souls of kindness that i wish i had more faith in, they gave me tea and then each of the women start giving me food from their sad little cardboard bazaar stalls and they each try to one-up each other and so this lady gave me some candy but that lady gave me candy and cookies and so this other lady hands me some chocolate and curse me for thinking like this because i wished i were in the fruit section getting handed bananas and pears (both of which i can’t afford) but i’m in the sugary sweets section so that’s all i’m getting but don’t get me wrong i was thankful i was just thinking of different scenarios in which i’d be more thankful and after1.5 hours the rain eased up enough for me to say goodbye to all my new girlfriends (how sad they were) and at this point only two missions remained: get water (ironic, i know) and get to my roof and so i’m in search of a well which i can’t find so i end up in this café where a guy goes and taps his reserves for me and it’s enough and i say hell and get going and i can tell this storm is just laughing at us all and is itching to start again so i decide that i must abandon the man from kyrgyzstan and i say a silent prayer for him and return to the place with the dog on the chain and i’m so worried that some kid on a bike will follow me or someone will see me and if that’s the case it’s game over so i’m hoping for a clean run but lord if when i got to this place there was no one around and just when i make my turn to enter i notice a dadgum, goldblasted car with people inside parked right where the gap in the fence is and how much more of this world i can take i don’t know and i try to play it cool and say hello and small talk and hope they will leave but then i realize that someone else might see me in the meantime and then they’ll come over and they’ll say hellomynameisxxxxxxwhereareyoufromwhatisyournamehowareyou and i just can’t bear the thought so i just waved goodbye to the people in the car as soon as their questions began and through the fence i went and the rabid dog snarls and snaps and then shuts up once i got to that empty and humungous barn and i had it all to meself and the pigeons that poop from the rafters and i did my yoga and no one came and i knew it was all allright and, to celebrate nothing in particular, i ate a freeze dried yuppie meal - kathmandu curry – that i’ve been carrying with me since prague, czech republic and what a meal and what a night it was and the pigeons never pooped on me (but did come close)
off to almaty and the confusion of cities and i stopped at a bazaar and got some apples and dates and then it was onwards with a mistake of a left here and i should have turned there but i got to where i was going and i went to a park to just sit and watch people and may god have mercy on the soul of this old man i saw - just him and a bench and a bottle of coca-cola - and it ripped my heart out to watch him hold that bottle with two hands, one at the neck and one at the base, and the way he’d tilt not only the bottle but his entire head and let that sweet brown effervescent syrup roll into his mouth but the reason it killed me the way it did was the fact that he wouldn’t swallow it, lord he’d just let it rest there in his mouth and you’d see his sad old man cheeks pulsating and you knew he was maximizing the tingle of carbonation, and, after a glaze of satisfaction sparkled in his eyes, you’d see the gulp in his gullet and then, almost out of breath at this point, he’d open his mouth and exhale with an audible “aaaaahhh!” and god the way he savored that coke and then the bottle was empty and break my heart for every ounce of coca-cola that ever was if he didn’t, relative to the ground, perpendicularize that bottle to let those last few drops roll out onto his tongue and, because he held the bottle above his mouth, you could actually see the drops plummet to his tongue and it was like you imagined yourself as one of those drops bringing such joy and diabetes to another person and when it was all over (and the tears all over my face), he carefully re-capped the bottle, placed it in a waste bin, and walked away with a limp
almaty awaited and so did a friend i had made and he shows up and says he can’t believe i cycled across his country and i told him not to believe it and then he says let’s go out to lunch and there was not an argument from me despite still being a filthy mess but if he didn’t mind i didn’t either (really, i only shower for the sake of others) and we hopped in a bmw and were driven to a restaurant and the thing was we went to this very nice italian place with cloth napkins and the maître d' gave me the twice over and the waitresses whispered and the cooks even came out to steal a glance but it’s easier not to care than versa-vice and i ate and ate and ate and then he said that his wife had just given birth and i would not be able to stay with them and i almost heaved all that i’d eaten because i have no money for hotels but then he said “but” and that’s a word i love because he says “but i have an ice cream factory 30 kilometers from here and you can stay there,” and we loaded up all my stuff and sometimes i wonder if my life is really happening and there i was with my own little security guard room to sleep in and two serbians who delivered the ice cream also lived there and once i saw what went into the ice cream i couldn’t bear to eat it but i did like to watch them make the waffle cones and i would walk to the nearby village and get rotten apples and close the door to my room and do my yoga and i lived there for a week occasionally hitch-hiking or somehow scoring a ride into almaty and during that week i confirmed the impossibility of a visa for china and - despite initially being promising - the impossibility of a longer than 30 day visa for russia and then i thought of maybe going here or there or maybe even over that way but finally i said to hell with everything and i started looking for plane tickets to a place i hadn’t planned on going to but had always wanted to go to and that place is a place called india
so i submitted my india visa application and during my interview i could tell the consulate didn’t really like me but then somehow we started to talk about books and we shared some in common and that helped but then i was asked to pay a non-refundable $100 application “fee” and i needed to do this now and i didn’t have it on me and so i asked where the nearest atm was and he drew a map and told me i had to hurry back because they closed soon and wouldn’t be open tomorrow and it took a minimum of five days to “process” the visa and they could only process the visa once they had my cash and so i sprinted with map in hand and got to the atm and read these words “this cash machine is not working. sorry. please try again later” and i raised a fist to the sky and managed to find a guy who pointed a direction i followed but that led nowhere but i finally found a cash machine and mercy how i am sucking this account of mine dry and i sprinted back to the consulate and got there just in time and then i left and hoped it would all work out and i had enough hope that i went ahead and purchased the plane ticket to india despite not yet having a visa to enter the country and after i made this purchase i was sick to my stomach because what if, what if i didn’t get the visa and i hate it when my life and my future are, however partially, in someone else’s hands and so i actually called the consulate the next day to ask him about my application “status” and my timbers shivered when he expressed concern that one of the places i had listed in my locations to visit was “an area of security concern” and might cause some issues with the indian embassy and so i told him to scratch that place from my itinerary, that i wouldn’t go there (even though i would) and then he said not to worry and that everything “should” be ok and i hate words like “should” and i also hated myself for my idiocracy of listing that place and how many times in this life have i wished to be able to go back
but you can never go back
and as if this weren’t enough, a couple of days later on an ice cream delivery run, one of the serbians and i were stopped by the military police in kazakhstan and they demanded our papers and i saw that serbian get nervous which made me nervous and then the officer after fifteen minutes of phone calls told me that i hadn’t properly registered with the migration police upon my arrival in kazakhstan and that he “could” confiscate my documents and escort me to the office where i would have to pay enough money to make them forget about it but he said he wasn’t going to bother with that and then he told me how until i had corrected this error, i would not be able to leave the country and, in addition, the serbian and i had to “bribe” these guys with ice cream just to be allowed to continue on our way and when i got to where i was going i, anonymously, called the migration police and told them about the situation and asked what “the hypothetical person in this possible circumstance” should do and they said that he would have to come to their office on friday and pay a $100 fine and then re-register ($80 registration fee) and that until this was done this “person” would not be allowed to leave the country and that if he (or she (or me)) tried to leave he would be stopped at whatever border or airport or train station by the migration police at which point the fine and re-registration costs would increase in addition to taking a minimum of two days to “process”
i hung up and i said, while cradling my forehead with one of my palms, only one word and it was: hell
the thing was, were i to choose to straighten all this out i would have to leave my passport with the military police on friday morning and i wouldn’t get it back until 7pm and that’s fine other than the fact that i had to have my passport at 4pm on that very friday to pick up my indian visa that i might not even get even though i was already the proud owner of a delhi saturday plane ticket which was burning a hole in my pocket, and, to keep things interesting, i had just been told that the kazakhstan based airlines i had chosen would not allow me to put my bicycle and trailer on the airplane and it all got to be overwhelming because none of it was under my jurisdiction but then i started humming a catchy tune and moving my head to the beat and went into a dream and i, somewhat non-characteristically (though of late becoming more and more characteristic), decided not to care and just let it all sort itself out even if that meant being detained and having all my bodily cavities searched at the airport and in the meantime it was just a matter of allowing days to pass which they did, mind-numbingly slowly
and then it was friday afternoon and i was in the india visa waiting room and just by chance i had on my muruga and ganesh (hindi deities) t-shirt (purchased 4 years ago at a temple in fiji) and the assistant consulate was so excited about it and about the fact that i knew a little about hinduism that he not only gave me a six month visa but also, though i had previously been told it would be “impossible”, gave me the multiple-entry option which opened up possibilities for nepal and pakistan and now all i had to do was wait for the official consulate to sign it and he was an hour late to do so and i hated him for that because i can’t stand people who are late and waste my time because that’s time i could have been writing but i got the visa and that’s all that mattered and then i also got an email message from kazakhstan airlines saying they would indeed allow me to put my bike on the plane (for an extra $200) and since i wasn’t caring about anything i didn’t care that this extra fee wiped 40 days off my $5-per-day-budgeted journey and now the only unknown was being allowed to exit kazakhstan and i would have to allow yet another day to pass to sort that out but in the meantime i celebrated these two small episodes of good fortune by eating two pounds of dates and giving what remained to a bum who would have preferred money and he told me so
and then it was saturday and i, with more than a fair share of trepidation, went to the airport and was immediately told by the airlines that they would “see” if i could put my bike on the plane and i told them i’d already been given permission but they had no “record” of this permission (i hate this world i hate this world i hate this world) and things weren’t starting off too well but then the little lady came back and, as if she were doing me a big favor, told me i could put it all on the plane for the “nominal” fee of $200 and i said ok because what else could i say and then she came back some moments later and said she needed to “be sure” i could put the bike on the plane and how she must ask her manager and wanted to know the weight of the box so i made an accurate estimation, cut it in half, and gave her that number and then i decided to tell her “my story” and went into the heroics of my heroism and what a monumental task i was undertaking by cycling around the planet and how any help they could give to such an elite athlete as myself would be appreciated and duly noted in my soon to be best-selling memoirs (followed by the box office shattering movie) and then i winked and the little lady left (a bit flushed from the wink)
all the while my bowels were rumbling and tumbling and i mentally willed whatever toilet i chose to be my victim would indeed be equipped with toilet paper but if not i remembered i had a bandana in my carry-on
it was time to check-in and then i saw that little lady i’d winked at, and she waved me over to the first-class check-in ahead of all the other folks waiting in line and i felt bad about it but not enough to refuse the privilege and onto the scales i heaved all my stuff and watched the needle indicate an ungodly number of kilograms and then she asked where i preferred to sit and i said - exit row, window please - and she said ok and slapped stickers on everything and told me to have a nice flight and i didn’t ask any questions and hurriedly hurried off and not a penny came out of my pocket and just like that i’m on the road for 40 more days and i guess i should wink more often
and i was so stoked on this that i momentarily forgot i had yet to deal with the migration officials and there were four to choose from and i decided to stand back and scrutinize all four for a few moments and after careful observation of their methodologies decided on the only female banking it all on my charm and my beard and a wink, and those three things, my friend, are checks you can cash
and so i waited and honest to god felt sweat form in my armpits and run down my ribs only to be absorbed by the elastic waste band on my pants and then, smile-less, the woman waved me over and asked for my passport and “papers” both of which i, smile-full, gave her and then she had to, exhaling and shrugging her shoulders, dismount a camera to take a picture of me because i was too tall and there was one strike against me already and i briefly considered offering to slightly bend my knees but kept my mouth shut and decided instead to only do what was asked of me and then her eyes went to my police papers which she only half looked at and i thought i was home free until something grabbed her attention and she pulled the papers close to her eyes for a more thorough examination and it was at this point that i knew i was doomed and began to wonder both if she would be the one doing the cavity search and also if my cavities were clean
several days previous to all of this, while waiting for days to pass, i had collected a dozen different blue-ink pens, and, having tested each one, decided on the closest match to the blue ink on my expired police papers and, have mercy on my soul, i, with the chosen pen hovering just millimeters above those documents, was this close, i mean this close, to forging (or as i like to call it, “slightly altering”) the date which had expired and god how i just want to be a good person in this world and always do the right thing but sometimes it’s hard, i mean it can be hard and so there i was with a ping-pong’ing conscience and i remembered a time in the states when i was at an automated self-checkout lane at a grocery store and i had a heap of apples and i weighed them and entered their four-digit code and the computer told me to “please place the item in the bag” and i did so but while doing so i realized that some of the apples weren’t actually on the scale and therefore hadn’t been included in the weight and resultantly i wasn’t being charged for them but i didn’t know exactly how many apples had or had not been weighed and how easy it would have been to have just gone on to my next item and let it be and i almost did just that until the fever of guilt won and i went to ask for help to cancel the apples so i could reweigh them and what a mistake it was because in the meantime one self-checkout station went out of order and the line of impatient people behind me was growing and people were scowling and the cashier had to call a manager over the loudspeaker to bring one of those funny keys and when the manager came he asked me to repeat the story of why he needed to come and i did and he looked me up and down as if i were some sort of specimen and i, with quite an audience now, reweighed the apples and finally all my reconciliations were reconciled and i was remembering this and i decided not to forge the document and now, as this lady scrutinized this expired date, i sort of wished i had
but then this lady, she looks right at me and i meet her glance and can’t decide if i should look away in a symbolic act of submission but i don’t, i just hold her glance and she sort of gives me this sly look like she knows what’s going on but it’s almost like she hates her job enough that she, like i had some days ago, decided not to care about anything either, and for that moment we were amalgamated in apathy and i loved her for it and she takes the papers and files them away and lord almighty in heaven above she took that rubber stamp and she, i swear to you, lifted it above her shoulders, with both hands, and let it come crashing down on my passport and it was like a glorious clap of thunder and then she, with that same sly look that by now i’m finding irresistibly sexy, hands me my passport and our fingertips meet on the exchange and i find it stimulating and even consider lingering and asking her where she’s from but instead i get the hell out of there almost tripping over the electric gate she had to trigger to release me from her confines
and now i’m on the flip side, in a holding pattern, in a room full of chairs where i prefer to stand and i immediately head to a beckoning sign that has this word on it: toilets, and i pass the women’s door and i pass the men’s door and god forgive me i go the handicapped toilet because i just want my own room and i want the space and i want all the luxuries of my own sink and soap and mirror where i can put my face really close to examine it and also there is a whole roll of toilet paper and for the evacuation of intestines that is about take place i mentally justify it and, though the door doesn’t lock, i take a seat and get down to business and any witness to this would have thought i was a coat and tie professional because i was taking care of business in ways unimaginable and in fact there was a witness because a security guard walked in on me and i said “whoa, whoa” and i don’t think the words were necessary because sometimes smells can scream in universal languages and he scurried off and once i had left my “signature” on all the (toilet) paper, i washed up, was glad my bandana was still clean, and felt awfully light in my loafers; and then i put my face to where my nose was practically touching the mirror and i wondered if i was as ugly as this enantiomeric reflection but who could care and so i stood back and became more attractive and i watched myself raise both arms in a “v” and then i lowered both arms and pointed my pointer fingers at “myself” and raised my eyebrows a couple of times and found this all very amusing
then i went to a duty-free store hoping for free samples of chocolate or something but the only free thing i managed was a couple of squirts of some “age-defying” lotion and i rubbed it in because having pored over my pores in that mirror, i also realized that all these lines seemed to be drawing themselves on my face and this lotion promised to “expunge” them
and this is something about me that has always flummoxed me, how once i get what i had previously wanted, i no longer want it, but rather want what i no longer have but previously had
but thank god for that movie that kept my noggin numb and i scooped my vegetarian meal to my mouth until there was nothing left to scoop and when the credits rolled i needed something else to dumb-down my mind and so i took a nice little nap and when i woke up they were showing a “sitcom” and so i watched it and listened to all the studio laughter and all this non-thinking got me to thinking how glorious it is not to think and how those with such vacuous minds will always pledge “allegiance” rather than “a grievance” to whatever flag flies before them and so i thought more about my movie and how i must revamp it and “lighten it up” in an effort to further subjugate the masses to which i contribute a mean 65 kilograms
down to delhi and how i watched that conveyor belt and out came my bike and out came my trailer, both seemingly unscathed, and then i was whisked away to a sea, an honest to god ocean, of people no less than 50% of them holding signs with names on them and the thing is i’m looking for a sign with my name on it because what i haven’t told you is i have an old buddy from high school who now lives in india and, god bless him, he has made some arrangements for me and so i’m looking for my name and then i see a sign with this word on it: “huth”, which is pretty close to hIrSch, and so i go to it and i say to the guy “hIrSch?” and he says yes and we huff all my stuff into his taxi and then we’re off to the streets and slums of delhi where the smell of human excrement permeates, where the power cuts off and everything becomes invisible until some minutes later it comes back on and people squint as pupils shrivel, where a lone girl passes a group of guys walking in the opposite direction and after she passes i watch them all turn around to look and laugh and slap each other’s hands, where cows are yield signs, where it’s midnight but still sweltering and the home-made ice cream vendors capitalize on it – delhi – where i am; where i am happy as hell to be
and i jump into a rickshaw and just tell him to let me off “somewhere” in delhi and he takes me to where everything is happening and in delhi that could be anywhere and i drink it all in and haggle with money changers and breathe deeply every kind of conceivable curry complemented with carbon monoxide and i’m propositioned with so much marijuana i feel like i’m back in morocco and i refuse it all and all the disfigured people which makes my heart twist and a sign that says “don’t $hit here” and one meter away an old man is $hitting there and because it wasn’t here he’s okay and i wonder if he wants my bandana and i buy some lycees and eat them and men in business suits and men in rags and the women in their saris and i’m hunting for a spot of shade to take a seat and read my book but nowhere is to be found because it’s just everywhere people and some are scurrying around this way and that way masquerading with mobile phones and the wise ones are just sitting there watching it all and silently laughing and i want to join them but there’s nowhere for me but then i do find a place and there are some bums sleeping nearby and i have a seat and am careful not to wake them and the flies are thick and the smell of urine, though noticeable, is not overwhelming and so i stay there a while and try to convince myself that i am really in india and then a nearby restaurant starts preparing lunch and the smells of masala trigger memories of a friend who i will always consider one of my best and his family is from india and this friend of mine had such an impact on my life and i’ve tried to let him know how thankful i am but never successfully and i miss him and the days we would hit tennis balls and listen to sad music and fall in love (but not really) with the same girls and i wish we were as close as we used to be and god how i wish it but i refuse to be sad this day and so i shake all thoughts from my head and watch a 360 degree movie of delhi and it’s just people, good god man, that is what delhi is, just a conglomeration of creatures and i’m one too and i swear in 4.5 minutes i saw more people than i did in my 45 days in kazakhstan
and though, as i say, i refused to be sad that day, i couldn’t help reaching this conclusion which, sadly, must be true and that conclusion is that i miss people more than they miss me but that’s okay because i think it’s actually better this way
and my high school friend, man, this old buddy here living in india, you see, he’s actually leaving india very soon, for a month in thailand, and i gotta get to his place pronto so i toss it all on a train and head north towards the mountains to a state called jammu and kashmir and there i am at the train station exhaustingly shuttling all my boxed up crap one piece at a time up and down endless steps and soaked with sweat and then i get out to a road and i remember my buddy saying “bear left” but hell there is no left and so i just stand there and take a breather and then i see a guy who’s not an indian and he’s got a nice beard and i wonder if i should ask him for help and i see he’s coming towards me and goldbless if it’s not my buddy and this is my virgin vision of his bearded version and how great it is and we toss it all in the back of his jeep and go rumbling off with him showing me a million places (and me remembering none of them but rather just thinking of this guy i used to see unlocking his locker and making his trombone sing and eating brown bag lunches and here he is, now with family, living in india and here i am, with him, soon to meet his family and it takes a while but i finally ask him if a psychic had told us in high school that he’d be residing in india and that i’d be cycling the globe and meeting up with him would he have believed it and he lifts his eyebrows and tilts his head (the same way he used to do) and shakes his head no but doesn’t say no and i’m in agreement, but the thing is here we both are) and then we pull up to his house and his wife lays out some pancakes and fresh melon and the kids are jumping all around and i spend that entire day getting a tutorial on the house and all the intricacies of power inverters and voltage step-up machines and water filtration systems and where to go for this or that and meeting her and him and shaking hands and the ten thousand things of tao are happening and i’m wondering if it’s all real because it’s so fast it doesn’t seem so and, the thing is, this rapid shake-down was necessary because the next day, the very next day they all left on a plane but i, i remained in their house, and i am still remaining, and i will remain for the duration of their temporary indian exodus and though i’m terrified every time i have to adjust one of those electricity-regulating devices i am oh so thankful to be here and that here with tea and a fruit and vegetable stand right around the corner and a kind little man that comes every so often and whips up some wicked indian cuisine and my days will be spent with tea pot and cup to my right and computer on my lap and yoga mat to my left and i will hide from this world and live in my own and write like a madman and then i will defy newtonian physics because even though i will have been an object at rest i will not submit to the idleness of such inertial inclinations, but rather resume my life (and my movie) of motion up to the highest of hills, the himalaya
and so that, in the shell of a nut, is what’s been going on