I may have been in Berlin, but I had left my heart in Orange County with Isadora. Indeed, I had a ubiquitous Polaroid in my back pocket to remind me of this heart-wrenching fact and, despite all the fun I was having with Yorick and Franky, I still thought about Isadora pretty persistently.
There was no way for me to understand then that I was establishing a romantic pattern that would perpetuate itself through much of my adult life: I was much more infatuated with the idea of a girl than I was with the girl herself. I would worship at the altar of ideal love, and then sneak round back for some unmentionables in the alleyway of impure lust. Because a girl could never possibly play the part I had assigned to her satisfactorily enough in my romantic production, my theater of the absurd. Thus, I would sooner or later become disillusioned with the entire production and ditch out for whichever sultry starlet would allow me to play her gentleman caller for the evening.
Basically, that Polaroid in my back pocket was an inanimate fetish object, representing something that never was and never would be outside of my lofty, idyllic, and very delusional fantasies.
That being said, I still called Isadora frequently from Germany. There was a nine hour time difference, which made it difficult because I didn’t typically rise until around noon, by which time it was nearly time for Isadora to be in bed (she was still in high school, after all). Our conversations were full of tender longing and expressions of how much we yearned for each other, as well as lots of talk about homework. I seem to recall her teachers giving her a lot of homework, although maybe that’s all we talked about because she was, after all, only sixteen. (But I was only eighteen so I still don’t see what the big deal is, mate.)
A typical conversation went something like this:
“Isadora, I miss you so much! I want to fly home right now to be with you! I would be on the next flight out if my tyrannical aunt and her cruel lackeys (Yorick and Franky) weren’t forcing me to stay! Being apart from you is simply unbearable!”
“I miss you too.”
“Oh do you? Do you though? Do you miss me as much as I miss you? Impossible! Impossible, I say!”
“Oh Isadora! Enough about me. How’s the algebra coming along?”
We had about thirty conversations along those lines, Dionysus. It was terribly romantic, and of course I would always be quick to remind her that I carried her Polaroid with me everywhere I went like the proper chivalrous sort that I was. Moreover, I would often kiss it as a symbolic gesture, planting big sloppy ones on that momento amore real passionate-like. I may have left that bit out in my conversations with her though.
I suffered terribly, as did Yorick and Franky, who had to hear my incessant lovesick rants about Isadora. Aunt Germane’s phone bill suffered too on account of the daily calls. In fact, I made the locals suffer too. One night we were out and about with some friends we had made, and I just had to call Isadora. Liquor always made me amorously sentimental, and I had had plenty of liquor that night.
“Hey, can I borrow your phone for a minute?”
“Your, um, handy. Dein Handy.”
“For what purpose?”
“Um, I need to call my aunt. It will only take a minute.”
“It is local call?”
“Yeah it’s local.”
The call was certainly not local and it was certainly not one minute, but love was an ideal so grand, so lofty that it allowed for the compromising of all other ideals, even if that meant lying a little bit to con a transatlantic phone call out of a well-meaning yet unassuming German.
Love (at least my teenaged conception of love) was an omnipresent, guiding force that informed every single decision, every last word, every perceptive nuance I would experience. Isadora was everywhere. I saw her eyes in streetlights, smelled her perfume at kabob stands, and heard her voice in every single German pop song at every single German club I stumbled into. It was all very romantic at first, Dionysus; It was a clear indication of my steadfast devotion and undying love, a testament to the fact that I was irrevocably bound to her forever. At first, anyways, until I started to see her in the wrong places, as we shall get to in due time.
Yorick and I had a mission while we were in Berlin: To get Franky to ditch his virginity and become an experienced seducer of women. Or at least a woman, which was much more realistic, but a tall order nonetheless.
It wasn’t a tall order because Franky was unattractive to females. Quasimodo he was not, but Casanova he was not either. The kid just didn’t know how to talk to girls, mate. We had been friends a long time, and I had never seen him talk to one. He was a shy kid and, unlike in my case, booze didn’t seem to help in this regards. In fact, Franky would develop a harsh stutter whenever he had to talk to a girl which, luckily or unluckily for him, wasn’t very often.
But Yorick was older and confident and I, of course, was a regular Don Juan*, so we felt that we could work something out, even if it meant paying a working girl to pretend to be just another chick in a bar and seduce him. We were considerate, caring friends, Dionysus.
But alas, our operation wasn’t going so well. We were having trouble making any real traction with the local chicks, and whenever we could get one to join us at a bar, Franky would clam up or stutter through his American words so that she couldn’t understand him anyways. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch, but we were resilient, dedicated, and resourceful.
It was all Yorick’s idea. He thought that we should find a strip club, because there would certainly be loose women there and Franky’s chances would probably be better. Plus, Franky had never been to a strip club before because he was too young, so it would be a culturally enriching experience in the very least. I had never been to one either, because I thought it was cheap, degrading, and objectifying, but I was willing to temporarily set aside my morals for the greater good.
We had no idea where to find such an establishment however, and it wasn’t like we could just go up to a random citizen and solicit such information. That would have been in poor taste, Dionysus.
But there was this one guy who hung around the train station in Kreuzberg that had spoken to us a few times. He must have been a transient or squatter, but he looked way better than his American counterparts I would later encounter in Oakland. He had us pegged for Americans right away and told us that if we ever needed any help with directions or anything, to let him know. This guy spoke perfect English, in addition to German, French, and Spanish. He likely could have served on any linguistics faculty in the world, but instead he was giving degenerate American travelers directions to strip clubs.
“What you’re gonna wanna do is you’re gonna wanna go down this street here three blocks. Make a right. If you’ve hit the kabob stand, you’ve gone too far! Make a right, continue one and a half blocks, and make a sharp left down the alley. It will be the third door on your left. Big wooden double doors, no address or sign or nothing. Knock three times. Three times. Have fun!”
He took a swig off his schnapps and we were off. We didn’t think anything of his cryptic itinerary. After all, this was Europe, and they did things a little differently than we were accustomed to. Who were we to question the customs of these well-meaning and accommodating people, Dionysus?
Pretty soon, we found ourselves in a very dark, very narrow alleyway in front of very big, very heavy wooden doors, just as had been described to us.
“Are you guys sure this is the place? It looks kind of weird for a strip club. I can’t hear any music or anything,” Franky asked timidly, probably overwhelmed with excitement at the prospects of real live naked girls.
“This is the place. Just scope the doors. Who wants to do the honors?” I replied.
Yorick knocked not once, not twice, but thrice. We waited.
“Should we knock again?” I asked.
“He said three times. I knocked three times,” Yorick said.
“Maybe they’re closed. Let’s just go…” Franky said.
“You’re not going anywhere, pal. This is for you, not us. Just remember that.” Ever the valiant soul, I was.
Suddenly, a pair of eyes was staring at us. They had seemingly sprouted out of the wood of the doors, and were now sizing the three of us up suspiciously, one at a time, through an elongated peephole. A disembodied voice said something in German.
“Uh, we don’t speak German.”
The eyes narrowed and the disembodied voice (a woman’s) spoke again.
“Yes? What do you want?”
A valid question indeed. We wanted to get Franky laid, but we couldn’t exactly say that. That would have been too blunt.
“We, uh, we’re here for the girls,” Franky squeaked.
The eyes relaxed their tense gaze.
“Ah, the girls! Of course! Come right in!”
The wooden doors swung open with a foreboding creak, and we were presented with the sight of a woman before us. She was wearing an elegant, low-cut black dress with high heels to match, a necklace of pearls and gold, and heavy yet complimentary makeup. She was a middle aged blonde, and despite the fact that the years were visible on her face even through the makeup, she had an aura of attractiveness about her. She was probably quite the sight to behold when she was younger, Dionysus, but I still hoped that the girls inside would be a little less aged and a little less dressed–for Franky’s sake, of course.
She led us through a narrow hallway that opened up into a dimly lit room with circular tables and a bar and twenty or so people sitting around drinking and talking. I thought it was a strange crowd for a bar– it was mostly couples. I didn’t have any prior experience with gentlemen’s clubs, but I expected it to be mostly, well, gentlemen. Perhaps the odd lesbian. But certainly not a bunch of couples. And especially not a bunch of couples composed of younger females with much older male partners, which I could see was the case as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
I didn’t see any strippers though, Dionysus. But I could hear faint music coming from an adjoining room, so I followed it. I figured that’s where all the dancing girls would be. It seemed logical to me.
The sight that confronted me there was as unexpected as it was terrifying, Dionysus. The room was lined wall to wall with wooden pews, with the exception of a walkway in the center allowing for pedestrian traffic. They were just like the pews in a Catholic church, except instead of Bibles on them, they had rolls of toilet paper. And instead of a priest up front delivering a sermon, there was a gigantic screen onto which pornography was being projected. I didn’t stick around long enough to see much, but I was able to ascertain two things about the scene: 1) Judging by the camera quality, music, and haircuts of the performers, it was pretty vintage erotica and 2) there were people sitting in the pews watching this erotica and, I assumed, making use of those toilet paper rolls**
Horrified, I walked back to the bar, where Yorick and Franky were waiting. I had figured out that there weren’t any strippers because this wasn’t a strip club. And I had also figured out that those couples weren’t really couples, but rather horny old men and prostitutes. I brought this to the attention of my companions. I also hipped them to the sordid screening happening down the hall. Instead of being appalled as I had expected, they thought this was funny as hell, and rushed off to go see for themselves.
I needed a drink; This entire affair was far too strange for my tastes. I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink from the woman who had shown us in, who I had surmised was likely the Madame of this Berlin bordello.
“Would you like to buy one of the girls a drink?”
She nodded toward the corner, where a few girls were sitting around a table without any gentlemen. I didn’t understand at first, because they all appeared to have drinks already and, besides, I was only ever concerned with buying myself drinks.
“No thanks. Just one for me.”
She looked at me like I was an idiot (which I was).
“You should buy one of them a drink.”
I looked back at her like she was an idiot (which she was).
“Just the one.”
I could tell she was growing impatient with me, but she annunciated the next bit real slowly to spell out to me what she meant.
“You can not just buy yourself a drink. You buy one drink for you and one drink for a lady. So, I will give you two drinks and then you will go sit with one of them. Get to know them and then you can decide what you want to do from there.”
Silly me! I thought I was ordering a rum and coke, when in actuality I was engaged in early negotiations for a sexual transaction. A simple honest mistake***.
It was too late to back out now. I didn’t want to sleep with a prostitute, but I also didn’t want to appear rude. I could pull the confused American card and bail, but that would be throwing Franky and Yorick to the dogs. So I decided to play along for the time being and agreed on the two drinks.
I walked over to the table where the girls were. As I approached, they all started making eyes at me, which would have been radical if I didn’t know they were only doing it because they were expecting to be paid. I sat down and said hello.
“Oh, an American boy! Who is the drink for?”
(“You stupid fucking tourist. Which one of us has to sleep with your disgusting self? I hope you brought your Euros, kid.”)
“Um, I haven’t decided yet.”
(“Actually, I won’t be sleeping with any of you because I don’t find any of you remotely attractive. Furthermore, I find the prospect of paying for sexual congress not only demeaning for both parties involved [especially me], but also totally unnecessary considering I could accomplish the same ends by getting somebody else to do it free of charge [especially me.])”
“Ok. But what about your friends?”
My friends! I had almost forgotten about them and the fact that this entire excursion was for Franky’s benefit, not mine. A liquored up lightbulb when off in my head: we had embarked on a mission to get Franky laid and, in spite of my own personal morals or any reservations I might have had about engaging in lurid acts myself, this was a surefire way of accomplishing that mission. Franky was too shy to initiate a transaction on his own, to be sure, but perhaps with some outside help to get the ball rolling, he would be able to get his balls rolling, dig?
“Actually, that guy over there with the black shaggy hair would like to buy you a drink.” I pointed to Franky, who was seated in the nearest pew with Yorick, watching ’80s Euro-porn and giggling like an idiot.
The girl smiled and got up from the table. Meanwhile, I had started in on the second drink– the one that was meant for the girl. As I drank, one of the girls was telling me about her kids.
Now, I’m not quite sure what it was, but all of a sudden I couldn’t see anything when I looked at this girl except for Isadora. It may have been her green eyes, or her jet black hair like a crow’s wing****, but I stared at her and I saw Isadora and I thought of her having to work in a place like this and sleep with sleazy old men or idiot young American tourists and I was overwhelmed with melancholy. I couldn’t just stand idly by knowing about this poor woman’s plight and not do something. No, Dionysus: Now was the time for heroics, the occasion for gallantry. Chivalry would not die on my watch!
So I pulled out a fiver, handed it to her, and told her to buy something nice for her kids. That’s right, mate: five whole Euros.
Her troubles were over! She would never have to sell herself again and her children would attend the finest universities in all of Europe before going on to cure cancer and invent time travel, all as a result of my philanthropic efforts!
But what actually happened was she thought that I was offering her five clams for her clam, which apparently is way below market value. Language and liquor barriers did not grant me the ability to articulate my true motives effectively, so she grew incensed and went to take it up with her boss at the bar. Simultaneously, the girl I had sent over to Franky entered the scene, equally incensed because Franky had refused to buy her a drink and/or pay for her services.
Thus, the three of us were presently and unceremoniously ejected from the brothel by one very angry Madame.
“Get out of here! And don’t come back! Stupid Americans!”
We did and we didn’t and we were, Dionysus.
</3 Sir Rateval Hurtlinge
*And by "Don Juan" I mean that I habitually found myself in fucked up situations I had no idea how I got into, always thought I was doing the right thing when I was really digging myself a deeper hole, and sometimes got laid.
**Some of them were sitting in the same row. I wonder what the proper protocol for etiquette is in that situation? "Could you pass the toilet paper, please?" "Here, let me get that for you…"
***And one I've made more than once, unfortunately.
****As Hemingway would say. Or a raven's wing, as Nick Cave would say. Or a pretentious twat, as I would say.