9.16.2108 – Krakow
Walked around the cobbled streets of Krakow today with my iPod on. Krakow is a beautiful and slightly sad little city. A high recommend, for a day. It was Sunday, that was good luck, so there were priests running around, and nuns, and churches doing their masses and services . . . Catholic all. Poland is totally Catholic.
I went into one church, and after standing in the back for a moment I said fuck it and walked up the middle aisle and took a place in the pews. This was in a church like you’d find anywhere in Europe. Endless decorations and do-dads in every corner. Statues and paintings and tapestries everywhere. Gigantic cavernous ceilings. So high it’s disorienting. And the tiny priest up there in the front, dwarfed by the size and scope of his surroundings.
I sat and stood, depending on what everyone else did. Music played. The sermon, or whatever it was, in Polish. Still, I felt strange stirrings of emotions. Race war. Civil War. World War. It’s coming. You think by the accident of your birth you were born during that one rare window of time when the human race doesn’t go insane and try to destroy itself. But no, you don’t get a pass. You’re just going to go through it as an older person. You’ll be like one of those creaky old dudes in the village with the dusty clothes and the cane. When the enemy troops roll in they won’t even bother to shoot you because all I do is stand around and watch, and maybe cry a little, as the younger villagers, still full of life, flee for their lives or get shot or taken prisoner.
* * *
I felt bad having to lie by omission to my friends in Vienna. Letting them assume I agreed with their Leftist opinions. They probably sensed I was not entirely on their side. I left hints here and there, which made me feel bad afterward, dropping little specs of dirt onto their sunny view of the world. All my life I’ve been able to hang with liberals. I didn’t really have a choice. It’s strange to think that at some point I won’t have to do that anymore.
But yeah, they were total Lefties. Default Lefties is how I think about such people. They’ve never considered any other point of view. Their marriage is founded on Leftism. Their careers, families and social circles are dependent on it.
* * *
In Krakow, I’m on my own again, which is a relief. Got in last night at 8:30, wandered the night streets, looking for the 2 tram. The medieval buildings, semi-obscured by the still leafy trees and the darkness.
This morning, I woke up to find that it was just me and another girl in our large dormitory-style room. We’d had an odd interaction the night before. She was in the tiny shower stall when I first came in and kept sticking her wet head out to look at me. I tried to smile and continue setting up my bed to put her at ease: no I’m not some random pervert walking around.
When I woke up, she was already awake and dressed as I lumbered out of my top bunk in a T-shirt and the Bermuda shorts I wear when sharing sleeping spaces with women. It was only then that I got a good look at her.
She was slim, tall, she wore tight black leather pants, a black lacy top, black pumps with her bare white ankles showing. She had chic dyed black hair, which she had carefully blow-dried. She was . . . 20? She had great makeup, lipstick that was just this side of vampy. And her face . . . well her face . . . let’s just say she was a stone-cold 9.
Lol. Thank god for the Pick-Up websites! Ignore a woman’s beauty, they always say. Which is what I did. As much as I could. Also, why was she so insanely dressed up to go hang out in a tourist town? And she seemed to be in a bigger hurry than she needed to be.
But none of these were my problems. I went about my business. As I dug around in my suitcase for my toothbrush, I casually asked her what she was doing in Krakow. She was thrilled that I was so calm and casual and immediately took me into her confidence. In her broken English she told me she was going to the University to study Psychology. So you’ve just moved here? I asked. Yes, she replied but she didn’t actually have a place to live yet. She didn’t know where she was living. In fact she didn’t know where she would be sleeping later that night.
Ahhhh, I said. If I were a younger man, I might get involved in the great adventure of where she might be sleeping tonight. But I am not. And I’ve known enough homeless, beautiful, heavily lipsticked, psychology students in my life. We chatted a little more though. She was sweet. Childlike. A bit manic. Eventually she gathered the rest of her things into her enormous and expensive-looking rolling suitcase and bounded toward the door. She smiled at me, wished me a good day, then said something else, then waved again and then finally left. It occurred to me that she was not an official guest and had probably just snuck in here for the night.
I wonder where she will sleep tonight, this student of psychology. It could literally be anywhere depending on how her day goes. The bus station, a luxury hotel, another Youth Hostel with an open back door . . .
9.17.2018 – Warsaw
The band Joy Division was originally named Warsaw. Me and my buddies thought that was extremely cool. We didn’t know where Warsaw was, or even what country it was in; we just knew the name had a super bad-assed, super dark vibe, and that really terrible things had happened there. That was a thing in those days, naming your band after revolutions or cities that got obliterated or other manifestations of man’s darkest sides. I guess in those post-punk days we thought our bands could recreate some of those atmospherics.
My actual arrival here was less dramatic. They dumped the passengers out of the Flix Bus, in the middle of the day, in a big empty parking lot in the city center. From there we all wandered off, the Poles and me. The one notable thing: a giant stone skyscraper standing dead in the center of town, which I have since learned was built by Stalin, to mark his territory.
I won’t go into the history of Poland. Let’s just say they had a rough 20th century. Maybe fate will be kinder to them here in the 21st. So far, it’s been going pretty well. But there might be trouble coming for them again.
I consulted my phone and found my hostel. I checked into my PRIVATE room this time, so that no gorgeous psych-studying femme fatales could get at me.
Once I was settled in I set out via a complicated route to an English-speaking AA meeting I’d found online. Once there I remembered that it was my anniversary. That very day. So I announced that and everyone clapped for me, there in this bunker-like room in the basement of a smallish Catholic Church in Poland.
After that I walked around the city with this American guy from the meeting. We had one of those great insta-connections, yammering on to each other about our cities (Austin, Portland), our love of musician Elliott Smith, our love of college football, and sharing our limited knowledge of the history of Poland and Central Europe, which wasn’t that limited once we got going. I told him about the hard-Left politics of the New York media world; he told me about a yoga retreat he’d just been on at a farm in rural Belarus. That’s right, this guy is just roaming around in such places, streaming UT football games, doing yoga and reading about Russian history (with a UT law degree in his back pocket) because that’s what he feels like doing right now. This guy was humble, brilliant, interesting, and real. Instant respect. Instant friendship. This is the true reward of travel.
At one point we both commiserated our utter exasperation with the state of our own country. “I can’t stand to be there,” I told him. “I can’t stand it either,” he said back.
We didn’t even have to declare ourselves politically. We didn’t have to. It doesn’t matter what his politics are because everything he said was measured and intelligent and rational. So any conclusion he came to was worth hearing. I don’t know what he thought of my thoughts, I openly admitted to being brainwashed by the Alt Right. What else is there? I asked him. He nodded his head. He understood. Probably he would say, there’s yoga. Which, oddly enough, I have taken up myself in the last year and which I enjoy.
* * *
Can I just say a slightly controversial thing? Women don’t know anything about world affairs. Have you ever noticed that? They don’t. Even the ones you see on PBS News Hour, the experts, they never have any insight into anything. Why would they? Such things do not have a huge effect on them.
When I was a musician I noticed a similar phenomenon. Most women’s opinions about music weren’t based on any understanding of the music. They didn’t know why early Beatles was their best stuff or why men wept when they listened to Radiohead. They just knew what they were supposed to like in order to fit in and so they did. Of course a few women did have genuine love of certain bands. But they were the exception that proved the rule.
I’m not saying understanding music is essential knowledge, it’s just a branch of knowledge that men are fluent in and women aren’t. At eighteen, I could have told you exactly why The Sex Pistols nihilism was more culturally significant than The Clash’s faux-activism, if you had several hours to hear it. Such is the male brain.
What women do know is why their friend Sarah is seeing that guy Steve even though he’s not right for her. That’s the stuff that matters to them. Women don’t care what happened to Poland in 1939 because what difference does it make to them? This will hold true as we go forward. Merkel, May, Macron, all the female leaders of Europe will disappear the minute the shooting starts. A women’s job during war is to avoid being killed and then get along with whoever wins.
Continuing with our theme of “we are all about to die in World War Three,” I’ve been thinking about W. H. Auden’s famous anticipatory World War Two poem, “September 1, 1939.” The first two stanzas:
September 1, 1939
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Love this. Though it comes and goes for me, the feeling of dread, the premonition that some kind of major conflict is coming and nothing will stop it. I try to imagine, for instance, the media industry or the political establishment regaining its balance, without some sort of large-scale upheaval cleaning of the slate. Is that possible? How would it work? Could people on the left get bored of hating Trump and slowly ease up on the Right-wing, unbanning them on Twitter and admitting that some of their ideas are valid? Could they allow privileged white males back into the fold, even the ones who drunkenly groped or said insensitive things around the water cooler? On the right, could we finally embrace diversity and admit that we are all the same and that gender really is a construct and that nobody should be limited to the labels of boy and girl?
No. that couldn’t happen. It is not even remotely possible. And that’s when you understand, after all these years on earth: this is why there are wars. When nothing can move forward without a violent conflagration. Even the women want it. Even the nerdiest nerds want it. You reach a point where you have to have a war, to clear the air, to start over, to clean out the toxic buildup of rage, resentment, and intrinsic incompatibility.
The interesting thing for me for me: does your average person think it’s worth it to destroy the world, just to settle these fairly innocuous conflicts?
So like for me, I’m sick of feminists and want them to stop attacking everyone. I also don’t want the U.S. to become Brazil in terms of race. I also don’t want to lose my job because of my “white privilege.” But seriously, what are these issues compared to dead people lying in the streets? Or getting my neighborhood wiped out. Would I make that trade?
And what’s it going to look like, anyway, that first dead body on a sidewalk in Denver or Philadelphia. Or that first time you see actual real violence of the type that won’t be filmed by every passersby camera and reported to the police as a “hate crime,” but will instead send everyone running home, locking the doors of their apartments, and hurriedly calling their family and friends: “What should I do? Should I leave the city? Where can I go?”
Exactly. Where can you go?
* * *
I saw some violence on the streets of Warsaw yesterday. Some young tough guy jumped out of a tricked-out Mercedes and started screaming at a much larger but schlubbier guy on the sidewalk. I didn’t see what caused this. The first guy runs around his car and gets right in the face of the second guy in the kind of aggressive and hostile manner, which in America would guarantee that someone is going to the hospital. But that didn’t happen. The first guy vented his formidable fury. The second guy stood there passively, staring into his attacker’s face, mumbling a few words back. He didn’t even put down his shopping bags. No blows exchanged. Very strange. (and this at 11:30 am)
Weird when it’s two white guys. Not that Polish guys don’t sometimes look like absolute thugs. They tend to be thick-headed, wide-bodied, and built for a fight. It would take a lot of work, just to get one on the ground. They are seriously formidable in a purely physical sense. Also they look like they would not hesitate to beat you to death.
And then fifteen minutes later, on a side street, in the same slightly dodgy neighborhood, I saw several possibly drunk young men arguing and throwing shit at each other, bottles that were flying around so that old ladies and other passersby (me) had to hurry past . . . This at 11:45 am. No blacks around to remind these guys that they don’t own the streets, which is how things go in most American cities. Ownership of “the streets” going in inverse order to who actually owns anything.
From there back to more civilized sections of Warsaw. Couldn’t find a good writing place and ended up in a mall food court. School must have let out because suddenly the food court was full of Warsaw teenagers. They’re all white. They’re healthy, clean, attractive (the mall food court probably being a hangout for the affluent). Beside me an impatient teenage girl lunches with mom, the girl wearing pink Vans high-tops, probably very expensive here in Poland. Around us, other kids. Two male nerds. Three girls gossiping. An unusually attractive mixed foursome, the girls clearly the queen bees of their social set, certain expressions of contempt, boredom and derision being universal.
When I lived in Brooklyn recently a lot of the places I spent time, were minority white: The big Atlantic Station mall downtown, the Central Brooklyn Public Library. I rarely felt at ease in these places as a white person because 1) you’re physically vulnerable and 2) you’re not going to strike up a conversation with another white person as there’s so few of you and it’s not really your place, so you keep your head down and keep moving.
The other thing about living there: The other white people are in total deference mode at all times. And so you have to be too. “I am so sorry I am here in your mall. I am so sorry to intrude on your library.” If there’s any kind of problem you are de facto in the wrong, best to just turn and leave. No one will defend you. The white people surely won’t. You are a white male; how dare you ever find yourself in a conflict of any kind. Haven’t you learned your place? Shame on you. Check your privilege.
Sitting in a student café inside Warsaw University, waiting for my café americano and I see on the magazine rack a months old copy of Bloomberg Business Week. And what is on the cover? The theme of that week’s issue? And the first article you see when you open it? Sexism. How it works. Why it exists. How we must combat it.
That’s how propaganda works. Nobody says “if” we need to combat it. Just “how” we need to combat it. They’ve already won the argument. Just by how they posed the question.
* * *
Meanwhile, I met someone. Zofia. She has a PhD in philosophy. She writes art reviews and culture pieces and does some university teaching as well. Found her on Tinder. We met at a leafy upscale bookstore in a quiet courtyard. We talked. She seems pretty serious about everything. Anyone you meet in Tinder has at least one glaring flaw, and I assume this is hers. A dour personality that shows on her face. She is, naturally, a hard Left-liberal academic and I can just imagine how the two go together: humorless personality with Left-wing dogma. Not much fun. So that’s why she’s on Tinder.
In response to her seriousness I hit her with a West Coast, devil may care, super casual version of myself. I avoid saying anything political. I laugh about this or that. I’m weird. I don’t give a shit. This seems to loosen her up. Zofia smiles and then laughs a little bit. Maybe she’s not so bad after all. Half the stuff she says I can’t understand anyway. And it’s probably the same for her.
In the course of the date, I see that she doesn’t like to be touched. Meanwhile, she tells me she is from a humble working-class family up in the north near Gdansk. Her childhood doesn’t sound like much fun. She was probably the odd, over-serious child that got shipped off to University because what the hell else are you going to do with her? You can’t marry off someone who frowns all the time and doesn’t want to be touched. Even if she is quite pretty.
We talk about as long as I can stand it and then I tell her I have a meeting to go to. So then we walked together in the direction of my meeting. The thing was, I liked her. Not sure why. Well, for starters, despite her dour expression, she was still Polish which meant she was slim; had beautiful skin; full lips; clean, feminine long hair. She was an 8, very attractive.
Anyway, the walk was nice. Again I got her to loosen up, smile a little, etc. Then when I had to go down a side street, I put my hand ever so slightly on her shoulder, which caused her to jump away with alarm. I was like, whatever. Then I asked if I could have a goodbye hug, she let me, but you could tell she didn’t like it.
So yeah, despite everything, I like her. I don’t know why. Possibly just a lack of female contact. And maybe I felt good because I was able to crack her persona a little bit. She must be very lonely. I know lots of women like her. They throw themselves into their careers out of loneliness and a sense of not belonging. And then what does a career get you? Nothing much. Especially if you’re a woman. Also, I suspect she is extremely hard on her male friends and potential suitors—ostensibly over politics but probably more from a sense of general dissatisfaction.
That’s why she opened up to me. A total stranger in every way, I act like I don’t care about anything, unlike the annoying men around her who somehow must align themselves with her hardline feminism to keep their academic jobs. I’m a little breath of fresh air, as they say. But then I get all touchy touchy, with the American hugging, which probably killed my chances for another date.
* * *
Hanging out with my awesome Texan-American friend, who is so smart, has so many varying interests, is so wise and knowledgeable about the world we can literally walk around the city and talk for six hours straight, which is what we did last night. At one point, we decided to go native and eat some real pierogis at a real Polish restaurant, which gave me diarrhea, of course.
I won’t try to describe the conversation, but we discussed our core beliefs and even though we were different, the respect you have when you meet someone like that, makes those differences a great positive. It gives you a chance to triangulate and adjust your own opinions and reminds you where your own thinking is a little warped. He’s younger than me, and because he’s newer to AA is much more spiritually awake and conscious than I am. So that rubs off on me too, which is good.
I love his life story too. He went to UT Law School, moved to New York, passed the New York bar, did the whole NY Lawyer thing, then realized it wasn’t for him . . . and in the course of all this, was having a serious alcohol problem. So now he’s teaching himself Web Development so he can roam around the globe and be a digital nomad—working on his yoga and streaming UT football games and reading and listen to music, and have relationships of varying degrees of intimacy with different girls from different cultures.
He’s totally a girl magnet too. Has a great, light touch with them. Occasionally calls them “chicks,” lol. Yup, there he goes: super smart, super educated, wandering around the earth not quite sure what to do with himself. “The 100 silent saints” I think Kerouac called them. (I’ve never been able to relocate that quote tho.) But it is a type and thank god I have the radar for them. I would count myself among them except for my temper, egotism, and selfishness, deficiencies I have been unable to rid myself of. I contain inside me healthy doses of “negative energy,” I guess you could say. Which prevent my sainthood.
* * *
Meanwhile, thanks to the internet, I’m keeping up to date on a friend in New York who’s in the middle of the latest #metoo controversies. Some high-level people at her “legacy” magazine just got fired. Older white men. The #metoo culling continues. At this point it’s a good way to get rid of has-beens who are taking up space.
It reminds me of changes in music. Small changes and big changes. Often when a big change comes along (punk), it just eliminates all the weaker music from the previous generation in one massive cleansing. Or like “Big Band” music. I get the impression that that was some powerful, bad-assed shit in its time. But then rock and roll came and wiped it out en masse, so much so many musicians don’t even know it existed.
I am always looking for the new thing. That’s how I found the “Alt Right.” I read somewhere: “It’s the punk rock of politics,” and I swooped in. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
9.20.2018 – Warsaw
Was hoping to get Zofia to take me to the museum today but she begged off. Need some new inspiration of some kind, like in Krakow, after doing a lap around their spectacular central square, I luckily nabbed the best booth in a local coffee shop and had one of my best writing sessions . . .
Though last night I did have a nice walk, down by the river which was this super clean, super nice public space where the Poles all gather and sit in the dark and talk and socialize the way humans are supposed to. That’s what I always think. The way the Europeans do it, that’s the healthy way. Like in Budapest: literally hundreds of people just sitting around, buzzing and chatting and interfacing. We just don’t have that same impulse in the USA. We haven’t set aside the places to do it. What do we have in New York City? Washington Square? Central Park? Compared to Poland’s parks, those are pretty unsavory. Maybe one of those parks down in Battery City would qualify, but those places are for the wealthy. We don’t have any REAL PUBLIC SPACES that are not full of homeless people, or drugs, etc. Where average people can go. Where young people can go.
There is a peak social healthiness the Europeans seem to instinctively reach, while we never seem to quite get there, with our tent cities, our dog-shit parks, our rotting infrastructure and sewer-like subways. Is it that we truly don’t care about each other (capitalism)? Or is it because we’ve always had these large minority underclasses, to contend with, and which make creating better environments impossible. In New York, the Highline was going to be a great public space. It took a few years for it to become a kind of elevated subway platform. It’s totally gross. Nobody wants to go there.
Is America turning into Brazil? That seems to be the gradual, but now accelerating trend. We started off as a facsimile of Northern Europe and we’re making the slow slide into South Americanism. And yes this is a racist thought. This is a racist idea. I don’t want America to become Guatemala. I want to live like Germans and Brits and Norwegians. Those are my ancestors. Those are the kinds of environments I was intended to live in.
Cruising on autopilot for the last two days. Living in foreign lands you run out of energy sometimes. I went this morning to my favorite little sandwich stand but could not muster the energy to engage with the woman there who usually lights up when she sees me and tries to teach me Polish phrases and otherwise seems to enjoy our little interactions a great deal.
I sure do well with the service industry people. Maybe I’m old enough that they don’t have to get nervous when I chat them up. I am the smiling idiot who breaks up the monotony of their hours behind the counter. I would take that. If my role in life is to amuse random people in this way, then okay. I did spread a little happiness during my time on earth.