Posts Tagged ‘london’

PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 9

November 7, 2015

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I was fortunate enough to live within the moment, all the while knowing that it would one day be something I would look back on nostalgically. It’s a powerful feeling to live in the now, but still aware that the moment was something slightly bigger. This was London. This is why I came in the first place.

And this is why I was leaving.

This is why I was sitting on a train, with everything I owned strapped on my back slowly making my way south.

I really missed my walkman. The empty train car was a terrible conversationalist, and any inner dialogue I might have had was said hours ago, leaving me with an awkward silence in my own head. It was like my junior prom all over again, only without a date staring blankly back at me.

I could have stayed in London. I could have carried on at the pub with my friends, drinking, smoking and treating each day as if it might be our last. I had found nothing but amazing experiences riddled in excess hiding around every corner of the city, but…I needed something more. This might be the only chance I had to strike out in search of something else with such lightness. It was a moment and I was living within it, all the while knowing I was headed toward something slightly bigger. This was Kent.

This is why I came in the first place.

But this time, I was completely on my own, and it was scary as hell.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 8 (Pt. 5)

December 27, 2009

We sat groggy—a huddled mass in the train station at 5:am.

We were convinced we’d miss our train back to London if we slept the night before, so we found ourselves waiting to leave wonderland with more than four hours to go.

Hunched over on a bench, collar pulled up around my ears, I drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally catching a chill from the wind sweeping through the station.

“This is what it must feel like to be homeless,” I thought to myself, as we sat staring at cold empty tracks.

Stan put on his earphones and melted away into a mix tape, as I looked around the station.

We were the only ones there, save for an old bum with dreadlocks, carrying an umbrella, but he was so far down the tracks, he was barely more than a fuzzy silhouette.

I coughed, my lungs tired from the trip, and heard the echo ring through the vast, empty station.

This was a golden opportunity. I pulled out my harmonica and let it wail, the slowest blues riff I could conjure. I wailed as if I were a troubled soul with a dark cloud hanging in my past—perhaps I was.

Time oft waters down the context of memory.

My private jam was cut short as the homeless dread walked past, followed closely by a dutch cop. The homeless man was yelling at the law as they passed.

He was an american, with the most generic of inner city dialects.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 8 (Pt. 4)

December 25, 2009

We did our best to ignore it—we numbed our brains in every way imaginable, but occasionally, fleeting moments of homesickness would wash over Stan and an audible sigh would inevitably rise up and hang over us, sitting heavy like smoke.

I crawled out of my bed, blanket wrapped around me for warmth, and looked out the window.

It had snowed. For the first time in over 20 years, Amsterdam had a white Christmas.

I breathed on the glass, then drew the outline of a Christmas tree in the fog.

A strange giddiness overcame me, and for a brief moment I felt as excited as when I was a child, ready to run into the living room and sit beneath the tree opening presents.

Only there was no tree, there were no presents. Aside from a date on the calendar, there hadn’t been much Christmas at all since we left London.

That was the plan, and until I woke up on Christmas morning, it had been working.

I needed to do something.

I looked over at Soul Sister and our stash of crystallized nuggets in little ziplock bags, but that wasn’t what I needed to do. Not on Christmas morning.

Christmas afternoon, perhaps.

But that morning I needed to become someone else entirely—Stan needed a visit from Old St. Nick.

I grabbed the little spiral-bound notebook I brought to journal my experience in Amsterdam and began drawing a Christmas tree. When I finished, I leaned it against the wall on the desk. The tree looked good, for all intents and purposes.

But it lacked something important: presents.

I scanned the room looking for something I might give Stan. Aside from Soul Sister, our backpacks and an old phone book, the room was pretty bare.

I had to get creative.

When Stan returned about 45 minutes later his face was awash in red, but not from the cold—the phone card hadn’t worked. He tried it everywhere, wandering around aimlessly in search of various pay phones, to no avail.

I was going to have to be his family that year.

He was frustrated and mildly defeated, unleashing a chain of curse words that would make a sailor blush—until he noticed the tree sitting on the desk with little presents wrapped up underneath.

“What’s this?” He asked.
“Merry Christmas, Stan old buddy!” I yelled out, as if I were a character in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. “Santa stopped by while you were out. Open your presents!”

He threw his useless phone card on the bed and walked over to the “tree”.

“But I didn’t get you anything,” he said.
“Stan, old friend, you’ve given me more than you know. I wouldn’t even be here right now if it weren’t for you.”

Stan began opening his presents, one by one, as I watched in excitement. I gave him (his) razor, (his) deodorant and (his) walkman batteries, all wrapped up in pages ripped out of the phone book.

Stan followed each present with “It’s just what I’ve always wanted, how did you know?” and “It’s just my size.”

It wasn’t what he got so much as the act of opening the presents itself. It was a small bit of normalcy in a life that had become anything but.

“So, what do you want to do today?” Stan asked after all his “presents” had been unwrapped.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 8 (Pt. 3)

December 24, 2009

To my right, Stan flipped through a book we’d just bought called the Mellow Pages: A Smoker’s Guide to Holland and began charting our day’s odyssey. I think his goal was to forget he had a family, at least for a few days.

To my right, a twelve-year-old girl sat rolling joint after joint. She was good. I couldn’t roll that well and I was once a Birkenstock wearing, tie-dye clad, dirty hippie following the Dead and chanting “Jerrrrry!”

But we were in a different world, now and those days were far behind me.

When she finished a big enough pile, the bartender came over, took the joints and put them in a mason jar, then paid her.

She immediately turned around and sat down at one of the video slot machines by the front door. She played turn after turn, pulling the lever to a barrage of canned electronic noise until her money was all gone.

Then she came back to the bar, sat down and started rolling again. This cycle repeated itself for a few hours, and most likely continued the rest of the day.

Just before we left, an old man entered the bar, followed by about 10 teenagers. He bought a 100 grams of hash, individually bagged, and divided them up amongst the teens before they dispersed into the city to sell their goods.

Our plan was to visit as many shops as humanly possible, drinking and smoking ourselves into a family-free holiday stupor at every stop.

When we left we cut down a street that was the official beginning of the Red Light District. Stan and I window shopped for a while, haggling occasionally with a prostitute staring at us from behind glass. We had no intentions of spending any time or money in the Red Light District, but Stan enjoyed haggling—over everything. This was a chance for him to see just how good he was.

When Stan would get a girl to agree on a price, he’d pause and think for a moment, the prostitute ready to unlock the door to her little sterile room consisting of a bed a chair and a sink to let us in. Then he would pause and say,

“I’m just going to go check and see how much that red head is down the road.”

We always walked away to the sound of muffled cursing in dutch and a one-finger salute.

It was fun, but that’s not why we were there.

There’s something for everyone in Amsterdam, providing you enjoy sex, drugs and alcohol. I think the Ann Frank house is there, too, but they didn’t sell pot in the gift shop, so we walked right past, towards the next stop in our little guide book.

On our way to Sunny Corner, the next coffee house on the list, we stopped at a head shop to buy a little half-foot, purple plastic bong which we affectionately named Soul Sister. As we sat in the coffee house smoking and playing backgammon, a boy, no more than 15, walked over and timidly asked if he could borrow the bong in broken English. I handed him Soul Sister and thought to myself,

“How cute. They want to smoke like the grown-ups.”

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 8 (Pt. 2)

December 23, 2009

Next to the doors of the pub was a small, rusted metal door with neither window nor lock.

“In here, guys,” he said as he opened the door, leading to a very steep stairwell. “All the way to the top.”

We walked past Rick, through the door, then up five flights of steps before reaching the top level. The stairs shifted under our feet, and the top floor felt as if it had been attached to the rest of the building with duct tape.

“First door on the left,” Rick said as he followed us to the top of the steps.

Stan opened the door to a large room with two single beds and a small desk with no chair.

“It’s 30 Guilders a night, in advance. Bathroom’s down the hall. You have to share it with the other guests, but right now, there aren’t any.”

I had no idea if this was a good deal or not. I had just (finally) figured out the British Pound. I was trying to convert money from the Dollar to the Pound to the Guilder.

“Sounds good,” Stan replied, pulling out a handful of strange, foreign bills and coins.

We both stared blankly at the money, not sure which was worth what.

Rick leaned over and began examining the currency in Stan’s hand.

“Here, I need this, and this,” He said grabbing what I assumed (or perhaps hoped) was 30 Guilders.

He handed Stan the key to the room, and turned towards the door.

“Have fun guys.”

We stood, still dazed, in the center of the room, backpacks still on.

“So…what do you want to do first?” Stan finally asked, throwing his pack on one of the beds.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 8

December 23, 2009

We didn’t even know where we were going to stay.

The rest of the pub staff rented a cottage in North England for the holidays, but Stan was determined to do something bigger.

This was our first Christmas away from our collective families and though neither of us would admit it, we missed them.

So Stan wanted to take his mind off things, fight off the impending home sickness that was hovering above us.

The best way to do this was to have the polar opposite of a family Christmas.

Where better than Amsterdam?

The moment we set foot outside the station, a tall, creepy guy with tinted glasses and a fanny-pack immediately approached us.

“You guys American?”

Was it that obvious?

“Yeah, St. Louis,” Stan responded before I could remind him we were raised never to talk to strangers. This guy was a windowless van away from being everything we were warned about.

“Need a place to stay? Follow me.”

So we did.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 7

December 12, 2009

London during the holidays is everything one might expect and hope for, transforming magically into a Dickens Village. Greenery outlined the city while chestnuts roasted at nearly every tube stop filling the air, mixing with the exhaust fumes of city buses and cabs.

Buskers were replaced by carolers.

It was a warm, traditional Christmas lacking in the Americanized opulence of lights and plastic Santas.

Though I was having a hard time adjusting to Happy Christmas over Merry Christmas.

For as good as we Americans have been at dumbing down the English language to it’s most simple terms, you’d think it would have been the other way around. Merry has such a nice, proper sounding ring to it.

I guess that meant ours wasn’t merry.

Semantics aside…

Our pub’s fireplace was lit first thing every morning, as fresh coal was delivered by soot covered Brits resembling the chimney sweeps from Mary Poppins. Due to air pollution, wood was against the law.

But fire is fire, and our’s was warm—crackling and popping a friendly invitation to sit next to it, pint in hand.

“We should do something. It’s Christmas,” Stan said one dreary mid-December twilight. It was the dead part of the shift. Three of us were working, and we outnumbered the customers.

In front of me sat a row of glass pitchers, each filled with a special spiced, mulled wine, handmade by the Pub’s cook, Scotty. He was an aspiring film maker from Wisconsin.

He had been working there longer than anyone, but always as a cook. He wanted to be a bartender or cellarman like the rest of us, but he was just too good at what he did.

“We could go to that cabin in Bristol with the rest of the staff,” I said, pouring myself a mug of wine and sticking it under the espresso machine’s steam wand, turning it on with a hiss.

“We see them everyday,” Stan responded, handing me another glass. “We see them when we’re at work, we see them when we’re off work…this is our first Christmas away from home. We need to do something.”

The last time Stan said we needed to do something, I ended up on a plane with little more than a passport and a backpack, fleeing the country.

“What do you suggest, old pal?” I asked, as the steam wand sputtered out.

Stan took a drink and looked at the front window, the dark of the night transforming it into a mirror.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 6

December 6, 2009

It was less a revered holiday filled with family, food and the limbo that unfolds thanks to tryptophan and alcohol, and more a Tuesday.

Or maybe Thursday.

It was just another day of the week. I had to work, Stan had to work.

Thanksgiving is for Americans. Canadians claim to have one, too, but…

The evening shift was slow and steady, like most nights—a couple of regulars at the end of the bar living off the dole and drinking Harveys amidst a cloud of hand-rolled smoke, the strange old man in the trench coat that drank alone staring longingly (and creepily) at the male members of the bar staff waiting for someone to fall into the unfortunate trappings of conversation. The blowhard who lost all credibility when he ordered a shandy—a line of Guinness with “Fuck You” spelled out in the heads of the stout, poured for the rowdy rugby enthusiasts that thankfully couldn’t read very well…

I pulled some pints, Stan changed a cask.

We spent our cigarette breaks racing over to the pub across the green to see who could drink a pint and be back the quickest. Stan edged me out with a time of 6:02.

Just another day.

When our shift ended, we walked over to the Kebob Kid on Fulham for some felafels, lamb sharawamas and chips drenched in vinegar and salt. We ate this nearly every night.

Walking back, already tearing into our meals, cucumber and onion dripping down our hands, Stan looked over at me.

“Happy Thanksgiving, buddy.”

I had forgotten it even was Thanksgiving until that moment, our dinners suddenly transforming into a holiday feast.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 5

November 21, 2009

As the train pushed south, I began to wonder if this would be one of those decisions.

Why was I leaving? I loved London; I loved the pubs and markets, the movement and action.

I was surrounded by people stuck in the same frame of mind as me; travelers from every corner of the world, together, living above a bar, in search of something greater.

It was like living on a reality TV show without the cameras. Before there even was such a thing.

Every waking moment was a party—a desperate attempt to live each day as if it were our last. A life driven by visceral excess.

But that’s not why I was there.

Not anymore, at least.

I wasn’t doing anything I couldn’t be doing anywhere else.

I could party at home, but I could never be a stranger—I could never escape myself in a place so familiar.

Back home I had a past, in London we lived only for the present…

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 4

November 16, 2009

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The Parson’s Head was one of London’s oldest public houses, famous for their cellar—and their practice of only hiring travelers.

The Brits would rather be drinking the pints, rather than pouring them.

The staff, whom they housed in a dormitory above the bar, was like a less reputable version of the United Nations. There were Kiwis, Aussies, Canucks, Turks and a few of us Yanks.

Somehow, we got the short end of the international-nickname-stick.

They filled their last job opening—and bed in the Boy’s living quarters with Stan.

I had to beg and plead my way onto the staff agreeing to sleep in the common room until a bed opened up.

The common room consisted of an old stained couch, a shelf full of tattered paperbacks left from past travelers who had moved on to new adventures, and an old TV that picked up three BBC channels and little else. It was rarely turned on.

It was where the staff spent their shift breaks, furiously chain-smoking before they had to go back down and pour more pints, and now, it was my home.

I tried to sleep on the couch the first night, but it was so shallow, I could only lay on my side, and every time I drifted to sleep I would invariably roll over, finding myself on the floor.

I had never lived without a bed. My parent’s house, my dorm, my apartment—they all provided me with a soft place to lay my head—and privacy, something I had sorely taken for granted.

I realized this after a month of sleeping on the floor and living out of a backpack.

I was just one step above homeless, but it was different than crashing on a friend’s couch back home—I was flirting with international vagrancy.

It was somehow more romantic. Everything was.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 3

November 11, 2009

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The train pushed south and for the first time, perhaps since arriving in the UK, I was alone.

The train was empty, save for an old conductor stopping by every few stops to punch my ticket. I left Stan behind in London, waiting for his tube back to the old pub. I was alone from here on out.

I didn’t have any magazines or books, I had no post cards nor pen. My walkman had been stolen on the ferry back from Amsterdam over Christmas. All I had was the sound of the train, my thoughts—and the deep-seeded internal beat following me down from London.

When I closed my eyes I saw flashes of the night before. The angels of the night, sweaty, moving in slow motion to fast beats, mere silhouettes from the strobing lights behind them, flashing through the dancing crowd…

I heard the fevered shouts from the MC bouncing off the wall of the chill-out room, where I sat with my friend, Stella, feeling her silk pant leg as if it were woven by the hand of god…

“DJ Randall, how much can you handle?!”

As far as normal lives go, lives with direction and a clear path, mine was a failure.

When you’re in high school, they give you a very clear roadmap to the American dream. You go to college, you get a job, and the rest falls into place.

But something always felt like it was missing; it all seemed like an empty, prefabricated goal someone else made for me.

It just didn’t fit me—like a pair of trousers just a little too tight in crotch.

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PFTIB: A Short Work of Fiction, Vol. 2

November 5, 2009

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My body was still vibrating from two little white pills with the silhouette of a dove stamped on each of them, which I had digested shortly after entering an underground dance club specializing in “Jungle” music—and ecstasy. Youth made me indestructible, and a little stupid. Yes, if my friends jumped off Tower Bridge, I probably would too.

I left straight from the clubs onto a train headed south from Victoria Station as the sun rose and an army of half-stoned kids staggered from the dark of the club into the light of the city morning.

London’s mornings smelled different than those of St. Louis. Sure, you could still smell bus and car fumes, but something was different.

They didn’t smell like American bus fumes.

People still went to bakeries for their bread in London, and a stroll down any city street on any morning bore the smell of rising dough, mixed in somehow, with hops and barley.

The buzz of the city was somehow peaceful.

pc3Maybe it was because I had just gone nine hours without a cigarette, and my two-pack-a-day lungs were finally visiting flavor country.

Whatever the reason, I felt no jet lag, and I felt no culture shock—just a strange level of comfort in my surroundings that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Stan and I stuck out like the American tourists we were as we entered the general London populace from underground.

They say New York is about two years behind London in fashion and trend; St. Louis is about five years behind New York.

As we trekked through the city in search of our youth hostile, backpacks on, we inadvertently became the great American cliché; running away to Europe to find ourselves like so many wide-eyed, sorely optimistic twenty-somethings had before.

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Project Pumpkin-14 Years Later

November 5, 2009

Fourteen years ago today my best friend and I landed in London. We had just moved there with little plan and less money. It had to be done, as we liked to say:

It would be rude not to.

I was determined to make it over there. I didn’t tell anybody I was even going, so they couldn’t try to talk me out of it. Rationale is different when you’re twenty-one.

Moving over there was, perhaps, the best decision I ever made. It shaped the person I am now.

So I figured I’d post this one again, even though it can be found lurking in the archives…It’s the start of a short work of fiction loosely based on the experience…some moments more closely than others, but I’ll never tell you which…I figured I’d repost it, as I revisit, and attempt to find a plot and an end…

 

So here we go, Post Cards from the Indestructable Boy…Volume 1…postcardswp

More to come…

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Have You Met My Friend Dana?

May 30, 2009

I once lived in London, tending bar in Chelsea…Actually, I tended a few bars. I loved my time there…So much so, every time it rains I sigh deeply, wishing I had a cask-conditioned pint…

But this isn’t about me…

I remember when myspace was still in its infancy, I met a gal named Dana…Dana Immanuel…She caught my attention because she was:

a.) From London

b.) Playing a banjo

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A female banjo player is a strange and wonderful thing…I’m not sure why exactly…maybe it’s because I know enough banjo players to see Dana as somewhat of a rarity…Maybe it’s because most banjo players are rough, loud, foul-mouthed, hairy old men…So when you see a banjo on the knee of a woman, it’s a nice change of pace…

By and large, female banjo players are usually the type who could drink you under the table…the type who enjoy filthy jokes, and even filthier company…and I’d put money down that Dana could drink more bourbon than I…even though I practice…a lot…

I’ve never met Dana in person—it’s been 10 years since I’ve been back to England…but I consider her a very good friend…we have a mutual respect for one another, I reckon…We’ve been sharing the rough progressions of our songs from demo to mastered for the better part of five years…

Dana is an incredible songwriter…She got her start in music busking the tube…I would have killed to see her in such a live, intimate setting…

There’s one particular song she wrote called Drift Away…the studio version is really, really produced…which goes against the general ethos of a banjo playing street performer…and my own personal tastes…but for this song, it works…it works really well…It’s the type of song I find myself replaying as soon as it’s finished, sometimes…The type of song that’s so good you wish it were longer…

here’s a live version:

From her myspace about me section:

Armed with a guitar, a banjo, a part-time assortment of bluesy and folky musical collaborators and a little box to stomp on, Dana Immanuel’s peculiar brand of honey-voiced North London-based Americana and pseudo-folk could be bottled and sold as moonshine.

With a performance style honed by years of professional busking and influences from Alice Cooper to Ani Difranco via Hank Williams and the local dope peddler, her live show is not to be missed.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you some banjo, so here’s another bit o’ live…

I hope one day, Strawfoot can work with her…

I don’t fully understand why she isn’t famous yet….

…and that’s kind of the point of this post…to raise awareness of an undiscovered talent…so discover her already, folks…buy the 3 Track EP…tell your friends…Make her famous.

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