He watched as the traveller confusedly looked around, evidently not knowing in which direction to turn, and too naive to hide the fact. His backpart was coming back, his backpack was coming apart. The handle of a frying pan and the head of a sausage were visibly struggling to fall out the bottom.
He wasn´t the only one watching him, but he was probably the only one not waiting to be the first to pounce on the perfect opportunity. The traveller must have at least sub-consciously felt his predicament, and sought out the free space on Jim´s bench. As he approached, he looked into Jim´s eyes while Jim looked a little bit above his right shoulder, avoiding eye-contact. When the backpacker sat down he did so quickly. He didn´t even bother to brush off the orange peels and sunflower seed shells; but the manner in which he failed to do so was quite a contrast to Jim´s. Whereas Jim had been quick to act, even if only for the sake of his own passivity; this tourist was acting quick, too quick for his own reflexes.
Jim looked around a bit and let everybody know that he knew what they were thinking, and his appearance was convincing enough for them all to figure he had them beaten, and without moving no less.
After letting some initial time pass, it was evident that the tourist wished to ask Jim something. He was waiting for the right moment. Jim sensed this and expressed his empathy by amusing himself – looking away and pretending to be lost in thought. When he was moved by a little pity he gave it up, and the backpacker spoke to him:
“Excuse me, you speak English?”
Jim nodded. He knew the tourist expected him to say something, so he didn´t.
“Well, I just got here and I have some questions I´d love to ask somebody who is willing to help.” Not benefitting from a response he adds, “If they´re really willing I´d even pay them something because I´d love to take up at least an hour of someone´s time.”
Jims nodded again, in keep with his composure, but couldn´t keep from smiling a bit.
“How much is an hour of your time worth?”
“Hey, let´s not get so personal yet, OK? Any idea where you want to start?!
“I don´t know anywhere yet.”
“That´s not what I meant; but let´s go inside and upstairs.”
The traveller must have given his questions plenty of thought. He was so anxious to get them out it was more like he was chasing them out of his mind. Jim told him a couple of things he figured wouldn´t hurt him to know: cheap hostel, the right place for a meal, but refused to answer any of his curiosities as to how things were in Prague. They sat down there for awhile. Jim had nowhere to go and had begun to get thirsty there.
The tourist asked him what people like him would be doing that night, and he replied that he didn´t know but there was a good show he was gonna check out at the Acropolis. The tourist didn´t care so much what was actually going on there, but was more intent on getting and understanding the directions.
Before leaving, Jim flatly refused the hourly wage; but his insistence on paying for what they consumed: three beers and five Cokes respectively, was met without resistance. The tourist paid, but only after laughing because he figured they had to have forgotten a couple of them. Jim told him that when the money runs out they remember again, but the backpacker didn´t understand.
The next time they met was later on that same night at the Acropolis. Jim had been alone until the tourist found him and st*ck by him. While at first Jim minded, he didn´t for long, as the tourist was determined to keep paying for the drinks. Jim felt a bit like a whore but he liked it, and it wasn´t like he was getting f*cked. That night found him liking his benefactor.
Drunken inspiration enlightened him to the possibility of making a regular living like this; until drunken insight informed him that it was already being done for a long time now, only less conspicuously than he had connived.
That night the tourist´s wallet got four people drunk, and Jim let him and the two girls they´d met, spend the night at his nearby place.
The next morning Jim was in good humor and was respectful to each of them as, one by one, they left; but the exchanging numbers deal didn´t interest him.
About two weeks later the doorbell rang and low and behold: he´s looking at him through his peep-hole. He was cursing whomever let him in the building. He didn´t even remember his name, he didn´t even know if he ever knew it, and he was sure that he didn´t want to just then. Ultimately, he chose to let him in, but he never expected to have this guy in his place again; and as natural as it had been under inebriated circumstances, now he felt invaded by the combination of the traveller´s memory and orientation; and this was before they had spoken more than mere introductory greetings. However, soon a raging curiosity burned through him, one which was ignited unintentionally when the traveller enthusiastically confided:
“This place is great! Everybody is doing something. It´s unbelievable really.”
“Sure is.”…..”What do you mean?”
“Sorry, I mean like I´ve met a whole bunch of people already, and it´s soooo great; this place must inspire or something, or attract or something…because, I mean like, I could never imagine so many young people doing so many things, being so active; it´s a great emotional center, I mean cultural center!”
Jim was wondering where the hell this guy had been and exactly who and what he´d seen.
“Where have you been hanging out?”
“I don´t know; I mean I don´t know the names; I have one of these do-Prague books and I´ve been checking out the places which stand out. I can take out my book and show you right now if…”
The tourist made for his bag.
“No don´t…don´t. Really: It´s OK.”
“I also talk to people when I´m there, and at the hostel, and really; people keep on suggesting the same four places, and I can see why: the atmosphere is…well it´s out of sight!”
“Right. Well great then. Good for you…but you know, well, you know how long I´ve been here, and honest to God: I´ve never really found anybody really doing anything. So…what are these people doing?”
“Well shit, all sorts of things really. You name it: acting, writing, singing, modeling, aah..painting, dancing, aah playing instruments, writing, did I say that? sorry, tattoos, taking pictures, performing, different types of acting…artists really.”
Jim took a deep breathe and exhaled:
“Acting, a lot of acting.”
“Well I personally don´t think there´s anything wrong with acting, providing there´s a good plot of course, I mean: it´s just my personal opinion.
“Well…I´m happy for you.”
“Happy for me? But…I haven´t done anything!”
“Like there´s this one girl, she´s lived everywhere – and from the sound of it…I mean she MUST be a real artist: there´s not a spot in her studio where one could sit or stand without getting wet or smearing something. Oh yeah, and she´s also one of them professional braiders.”
“She must really be something alright.”
“Yeah. Then there´s also Connie. She blows glass and juggles balls; she says she comes in real handy at a party. She does this dance where she´s blowing, juggling…”
“and coming in handy.”
“I guess. Well, anyway, she does this dance combining her arts, but she keeps it all on the d.l. because imitators are everywhere and they cramp her style.”
“Yeah, probably packing it into boxes and shipping it off somewhere.!
“I don´t know. You probably understand these things better than I do. It would make sense though, because, after all, this is a country in transition and they must need all the help they can get; and if people are gonna go shipping them about…I don´t know, well anyway…it must get discouraging for the ones who are trying to help.”
Jim felt there was something surreal going on.
“Well, you know, this idea of helping people is tricky.”
“That´s funny, just now you remind me of this guy Luke.”
Jim gave a wry smile, raised his eyebrows, and his entire face suggested healthy scepticism.
“It´s not a bad thing or anything, I mean like, Luke is great. He´s wise, witty, and funny, and I´ll tell you why you do too; he said: “two dogs fight for a bone and a third runs away with it.”
The tourist looked proud of himself.
“I don´t know how you made that connection; I wasn´t talking about fighting, but helping; actually, it was you who was talking about help, I was just laughing about cramping styles; but I guess none of this is very relevant, is it?”
“I guess not. Well see Luke…”
“Hold on a sec, you GUESS not; there is nothing very witty about it either.”
“I don´t see why you´re so upset.”
“I´m not… please, go on…this is very entertaining.”
“Well say what you will, I´ve hung out with Luke a couple of times already and I can tell you he´s witty; like when somebody calls him by his name…well…what would any normal person do? …Well what does he do? He´ll say “Cool Hand Luke”, or “Luke warm”, or since people call him Skywalker he´ll say something like :”the sky´s the limit”, or “fly my friendly skies”, or “you´re watching Sky channel”, I don´t know, that´s not all either…maybe you just have to be there. He´s a real comedian, and he plays bass and writes too. Well I must be chewing your ear off”.
“No, it´s more like you´re chewing fat. It´s cool, I find it all very comforting and rewarding.”
“Well then let me tell you about Sammy, ´cause I haven´t even gotten to him, and he´s like the epi-center.”
“Quite to the contrary, he´s the shit. First of all, he´s got these funky retro shades, real baggy pants, and he wears them 70´s track suits; I mean he don´t give a f*ck. Oh yeah, and his beard is perfectly groomed, I mean perfect!”
“You´re getting very descriptive suddenly: you might try writing also.”
“Probably will, must be something about this town I guess; anyway, Sam´s the shit: he models, acts in commercials, writes, plays the guitar, and now he´s teaching himself how to DJ. And when I asked him how he can manage to do all these things you know what he said? He said: “something must be compromised.”
“Should have said he should concede, or at the least…that he compromise.”
“I don´t understand what you mean: more power to him, right? I mean when he tells me he´s a writer he tells me: “after all, the way I figure it: everybody´s got at least one novel in them.” I mean it´s just like him you know, he has time for everything; or he´s got it in him that there´s nothing he can´t do.”
“Well then, I bet there isn´t.”
“You don´t even look surprised!”
“If I haven´t met him it´s because he´s like all the rest and I couldn´ t tell the difference.”
“So…you know him?”
“Well I can´t tell.”
“You think I´m gonna go tell someone? Wait…why is it even a secret?”
“I can´t tell if I know this guy from what you said, especially since I don´t even know a Sammy. Alright?… Damn it, alright?”
“Chill out man, I don´t even understand your problem. Why you getting all loud with me and shit?”
“Listen, that´s not loud; and if you heard something…you haven´t seen nothing yet! And that applies to us here AND them out there.”
“I guess I just don´t understand.”
With that and their last few parting words this third encounter was consummated.
Almost immediately Jim began pacing his apartment and talking to himself:
“God damn! F*ckin´ kid. And what the hell is it? And it´s not that f*ckin´ hierarchy thing! Probably the first thing those idiots would think. No, it´s really just that nobody really does anything! They talk, they talk, they talk, they talk, and they talk some more, explaining how they´re this and that, and it´s talk, and it´s talk, nobody ever did anything, and it´s not that stupishit that they think that everybody´s got to have an “I got here first mentality”…that stuff is childish! Why does it seem that people coming just get stupider and stupider! Because they´re the product of a country that keeps…just…down…straight down, and people advertise themselves as products, always advertising themselves, and so loud, always so f*cking loud. It´s like they´ve got a fetish for flaunting their fallacy-ridden foolishness…the fffffffff*ckheads!”
With that said, Jim went into the bathroom, lathered up his face, shaved – cutting himself a couple of times, bloodied a towel while drying, and left the building.
While he was out he just walked. Basically, he walked in circles. Anybody passing him on the sidewalk could tell that he was thinking to himself: he tripped over a dog leash, knocked over a garbage can, stepped on a dog´s foot, walked over a kid, knocked into a baby-carriage, and repeatedly stepped into dog-shit.
That walk really cleared his mind out. Next couple of weeks were productive ones. He was home most of the time; it had been at least a year since he had gotten so much done.
Then a day comes where Jim has decided he´s earned himself the right to go out and blow some money -some of his little money, on as much as he can take.
The first thing he wanted to do was eat, so he goes to Ol?anské námìstí, takes the 9 to Národní tøída, and goes to a restaurant nearby: taking the only empty table by the coat rack in the corner. He ordered a beer and a menu.
It wasn´t long before the waitress came and asked him if he didn´t mind letting a young gentleman keep him company. He smiled at her and gave permission, while asking himself: “Why the hell doesn´t the asshole come here and ask for himself?”
The guy came over, not once did he attempt to make eye-contact with Jim. Jim could hear his walkman as he sat down. When the waitress came, first she took Jim´s order, then this other one removed his headphones and ordered a beer, Balkan salad, and fried cheese with fries, then he pulled the head phones back on and pulled out a book. It had a well-known English title. Jim noticed that the guy didn´t seem to be reading but pretending to read. He noticed, that despite the dark sunglasses the guy was still wearing, he could still see his eyes thanks to the way the light was coming in; and he could tell that they spent much more time shifting across other tables than looking at his book, especially whenever he was dragging on a cigarette.
Jim laughed a little. The waitress delivered the food. A few bites and swallows passed before anything noteworthy took place, and when it did: it was in the form of whom you´d figure, who, spotted them, joined them, and then greeted them with:
“So you two do know one another!”
Jim didn´t understand and you could tell that he was just trying to remember this backpackers name. The other two were going through the motions of an elaborate handshake.
“He just sat down here.”
“Well this is Sammy: Sammy I was telling you about.”
“Sammy this is Jim; Jim´s the first guy I met when I came.”
“He can´t hear you.”
“He must be deep in thought or something,” changing the direction of his address, “hey man, take that shit off already.”
“T´sup dude. Yo…check it…everybody´s gonna be at Toxin´s place t´night. It´s bring yown vice…wanna come?
“Yeah, why not?”
“Kev says it´s open invite for da girls an he´ll be givin ´em free piercings. I tink dem bitches we met de other night are going; I called em up and tol ´em where an when ta meet me if dey wanna come.”
“Hey Jim, wanna come? Wait…is it alright if Jim comes?”
“Uuuh, I dunno…it´s jus gonna be da crew ya know?”
“Hey, thanks umm, but I´m busy you know; I´m busy for that, but thanks anyway.”
“Uuuh, I dunno…I´ll like have to phone Kev, ya know.
“I don´t want to go. Guys… alright?”
“Hey, I´m Sammy. I´m…”
“I know. Listen, where do you come from that you don´t understand?”
“Well I´m a lil a everytin. I´m from Cali, I´m from Colorado, from Dallas, I´m from Pennsylvania, I´m from the city, I mean New York City, and I´m from Prague now I guess.”
Jim was thinking how he hated when people couldn´t be straight and when people didn´t have the ability to think straight.
“Well I see you speak English Sammy…and I can tell you´re particularly adept at listening.”
“Thanks, it´s prolly ´cuz I´ve had to like adapt so much; I´ve like had soooo many like obastacles ta overcome, ya know.”
Jim´s eyes were moist and laughing now, and he said:
“I can imagine.”
“Like jus today I was writin a poem, a long poem, free-base style ya know, and I wen off ya know, like tawkin bout what it´s like ta be me and awl. Hey, I even got it on me…I´ll read it ta ya.”
The traveller spoke but Jim didn´t. Jim listened, he listened long enough to decide it was worse than your average crap. When he finished reciting, the traveller clapped, Sammy looked so pleased with himself he felt no alternative but to be modest:
“Well that´s nuttin´, ya know. I´m like writing a novel: ya know da way I figure it…everybody´s got at least one novel in them.”
Jim shook his head, it was too much.
“Or at least a short-story, right?”