Well, like most of my relationships and full-time jobs, it has come to an abrupt end. I knew it was coming – even had it planned since March – but the idea that this Camino adventure is officially over as I return to the States still has me wonderin’ aloud what in blazes I’m accomplishing with my Life when I’m not on the Way. At least it didn’t come barreling into the room in tears crying about this and that and all that “I’m leaving you” and “You’re so cryptic” nonsense.
That’s Camino, eh comrades?
In real time, to the fellow sitting next to me on the plane(s), I apologize for the incredible body odor and the fact I’m dressed like a member of ISIS.
No, seriously. I smell like my Swiss uncle after a long day of farmin’ and my all-black outfit and sad excuse for a beard only lack the AK-47 to complete the Daesh ensemble. No doubt passing through the American security checkpoints will be rather humorous. Inshallah.
As my good friend Nicole has always remarked upon my misfortunes, I have brought this upon myself.
Still, fellow passenger, I am so so sorry for the fact I’m a smelly terrorist lookalike. Still friends?
A curious reader – who has followed this nonsense for well over a month now – will no doubt be wondering: where in blazes did he get an ISIS outfit when all he packed was this garbage:
I remember to brush my teeth this evening and head to the men’s bathroom in this brand new – yet delightfully cramped – albergue perched upon the ass-end of a town that has the comical name of Calle. It seems apt given that there isn’t much to this place aside from an overpriced hostel for pilgrims and a kitsch beer garden that took the Germanic title far too seriously. Much as I love beer, being surrounded by emptied and graffitied bottles seems like I’m drinking dead relatives in a hops graveyard.
Regardless, I have applied fluoride to my brush, but stop before I even begin. Some poor bastard has left behind their money belt. A European, no doubt, I think to myself as I grasp the pouch. It is lightweight, thin, and clearly contains money, passports, and other important documents. I resist the urge to peek inside and gander at the identification card lest someone walk in at the wrong moment and assume I’m a thief.
The Asian fellow with the body of a young man but the emotionless face of a stone statue enters to freshen himself up for the night. His face is pockmarked, lacking a beard, but his eyes have that thousand-yard stare only pilgrims and elderly, bearded wisemen seem to possess. I turn toward him (a walking conundrum – like a shaved Confucius) holding the European man purse.
“Yours,” I politely ask.
He grunts in the negative, waving a foamy toothbrush and a dismissive palm toward me. “A no, a no, a no,” he says, caught in that infinite loop of speaking an unfamiliar language to emphasize a point. He points toward his toothbrush – as if it’s the owner – and returns to cleaning his young teeth in an old face.
I thank him for his repeated denial of confirmation and proceed to track down the owner. I scarcely leave that cramped shitter before a half-naked older chap is hit by the swinging door. He apologizes, but the frantic look in his eye indicates I’ve found my mark.
“Yours,” I politely ask.
“Ah!” he squeaks in pleasant surprise. He looks at me, looks at his man purse, looks at me, and takes the man purse from my outstretched hand. He ignores my pasted toothbrush in the other.
“Ah, thank you so very much!” he says. He has excellent command of the language, only the slightest hint of an accent, and I can’t place him just yet. “This,” he says holding up the man purse, “was my Life. Thank you.”
“No problem,” I say. “Happy to help.”
“I would be – as you say – fucked without this.” He emphasizes the word, like he’s trying to sense my limits by proffering the most versatile curse in the tongue.
He has since buckled the man purse about his bare waist. A damp tee covers his chest; an European banana hammock covers the rest. His legs are the same shade of pale as the slick tile.
The Asian man-boy is furiously brushing his teeth.
“It is very kind,” says the half-naked European, “to return this to me. You could have taken anything you wanted.”
I laugh. “It is Camino,” I say. “We are pilgrims. We help each other.”
“Ah, yes. That is true. I thank you.” He extends his hand and briefly shakes mine. My toothbrush remains unused and impotent. “I am from Slovenia,” he says, not bothering with a name. After releasing my hand, he produces a second tee from Lord knows where and begins to wash it – unperturbed by the Asian man-boy – in a nearby sink. The Asian is equally unfazed by the half-naked European casually washing his clothes. “Where do you call home?”
“United States,” I reply. “New Mexico.”
“Ah, yes!” he exclaims as if he’s ever been to that part of the country. “I was once in California – it is close, no?”
I think to myself how distance is relative and simply agree with him. Easier than explaining geography at this point. Our Confucian pal finally finishes scrubbing his gums clean of any and all filth and quietly exits the bathroom. “A sorry, a excuse,” he says. Given the cramped space, he simply squeezes between us, but my new Slovenian friend pays him no mind as he begins asking me about Trump, healthcare, and Camino.
“Trump,” he says with that European dissent. “What a character, no?”
“He certainly is,” I reply waving my hands (and toothbrush) in dismissive defeat. I haven’t checked the news since Lent but according to other pilgrims, The Donald is being racist or some shit back home. Same shit, different day. “But he will get re-elected,” I add.
The European nods in agreement, moving his head up and down like a sensible person, and thrusting his near-naked groin to and fro for some strange affirmation. He is caught up in his thoughts and fails to notice the quixotic expression on my face.
Even he knows the cult of personality and the rabid ambition the man has for the office. “It is about money,” he says, wringing out his second tee and standing in full. His money belt blocks the full view of his banana hammock, but I cannot get quite past the paleness of his legs. All these weeks in Spain and not a day of sun.
“Yes,” I say, “money. That’s what people care about.”
“Yes!” he says. I touched a nerve as he becomes wholly animated. “But all that shit – the shit we left back home – does not matter.” He holds his free hand high above his head. “A stack of money this tall does not make one happy!”
“You cannot eat money,” he continues. “Money will not cure you of matters of the mind and heart.” His banana hammock flops in agreement as he excitedly moves about within our small quarters.
“And you can’t take it with you,” I add.
“Yes, very true that is. You cannot have it in the next Life.”
He returns to the sink (the Asian man-boy didn’t rinse his out thoroughly and remnants of Confucian spittle decorate the porcelain). He wrings the tee one more time for good measure. “Everyone needs to go on Camino,” he sighs. “It would teach the world of Good.”
“Where else in the world can you have moral philosophical discussions in a men’s bathroom with strangers?” I say. “Now that’s Camino.”
He laughs and with his free hand motions to fist bump. “You are right, American.” Again the banana hammock flops in agreement.
I return the gesture, my hand clenched around my unused toothbrush.
In truth, comrades, I have not written much. After the passing of my Grandmother in Switzerland, most of what I write pales in comparison. That piece was directly from the heart – the pained heart of a grandchild robbed from one last visit with his doting Oma – and that is a tough act to follow. Not that I am giving up on writing, for indeed, something has to keep me sane that isn’t nicotine or alcohol.
School started approximately six weeks ago. Tomorrow Today marks the beginning of the sixth week, a full two-thirds into this nine-week term. Difficult to believe, yet time has flown by at such a pace that I have had little recourse or time to catch my breath and pen anything worth publishing. Not that this, comrades, is worth publishing, but it certainly is something.
Christ, how come sometimes it is so easy to write drivel that people might actually read, but when it comes time to pen something worth thinking about – pondering in a Socratic manner – I freeze up and nothing comes stumbling forth? I feel like one of my students, looking up at me with those forlorn, hopeless eyes that seem to say in a silent scream, “Why are you doing this to me? I can’t write.”
Fuck all; you think I can?
This is Where I Lose My Shit
I have some brilliant writers. Little fuckers who are going places with their written word. Youths who have captured that emotion so eloquently and powerfully that they’ve no choice but to succeed and excel. Sure, it is easy to dismiss much of what teenagers have to say as little more than angst, or hormones, or impotent rage, but a select few have transcended this stereotype for the better.
I mean, fuck, I read the things these kids share with me and I wonder how come I’m not capturing raw emotion like that. To be 15 or 16 and to write about the things going on in their lives – in their heads – so powerfully, with such gusto, how can I not be impressed? I cannot name names, obviously, but if any of you little bastards are reading this, you know who you are.
And you know I mean that with the utmost respect. From writer to writer.
And as I always tell them: don’t stop writing.
Oh, how easy is it to give in and call it a day. This is shit. Probably yes, but the important thing is you’ve written it. Not everything you pen will be golden – that’s part of the writing process – but the fact my young charges are out there trying to find their voice in the tempest that is high school, puberty, hormones, and problems at home, well, fuck, they are doing mighty fine enough.
Today I dressed up as Charles Bukowski. Basically I wore a bathrobe and had a small tumbler filled with Coke (I am told, under no circumstances, that I’m not actually allowed to drink on campus; so much for my margarita machine for the teacher’s lounge idea). We are working on poetry projects, and to model a good presentation (and wear a bathrobe to work), I showcased So You Want to be a Writer by that grumpy curmudgeon Bukowski. Frankly, I thought it went very well. One must have fun at work, right; otherwise, what’s the damned point?
My slideshow presentation ended with Bukowski’s mantra emblazoned upon the board for all to see. In huge, bold, obnoxious letters, it stated: Don’t try.
God. Damn. You’d think I shot someone in front of those kids with their stunned looks as they read those words.
Don’t try. Don’t try? A teacher is telling us to “don’t try?!” Indeed I am, my charges, for someone has to elucidate you with alternative opinions.
Let’s be real for a moment regarding public education. Foremost, I love my job. Little bastards keep me motivated and ready to kick ass every single day. Sure, some days are more taxing than others, but I reckon that is true for any job. But dealing with 150+ kids day in and day out, well, someone has to shake the foundation of lies they’ve been sacrificed upon.
Kids are taught from a very young age that a high score is the equivalent of excellence. An A+, a 100%, these are the things kids of all ages are taught – indoctrinated – to achieve because high scores equates to higher self-worth. If I achieve high scores on everything I do, so their understanding goes, then everything in Life will be easier and within my grasp.
Kids – especially teenagers – are not little automatons we can constantly shuffle toward the meat grinder that is standardized testing. Kids are not mindless beings who must be forced to learn by rote memorization and recalling such things weeks down the road. How many of you fuckers can remember who conquered the Incan Empire? And what was the last Incan emperor’s name?
Don’t Google it; just answer the goddamned question.
Why in the thousand seas of fucks of Hell are we having kindergartners writing paragraphs – fucking paragraphs – when they should be picking their noses and complaining about cooties whilst running about like wild Indians on the playground? Why can’t young men wear ball caps in class? Why can’t young ladies wear their summer hoochie shorts to class? Why did starting a chess club raise such a rumpus? Why are we singing the virtues of football and cheerleading over innovation and true excellence? Why, and this is the most important bit, why can’t we let our kids express themselves without fear of reprisals?
Yes, I admit, childhood is a product of the 19th century, but when did we decide to create little worker bees instead of human beings? What good does it serve when every child is taught to express themselves the same way, that an essay only has five paragraphs, that art is only what has been done before and must be copied, that school ultimately doesn’t matter because you’re going to college anyway and there you’ll really learn?
What, in the flying fuck of a shit tempest, are we doing to ourselves? We, as Americans, wonder why the Vikings continuously beat the shit out of us every year in international testing, but we fail to see the glaring answer looking us in our fat, capitalist faces: they innovate. They allow children to be children. They allow youths to find themselves within the confines of the classroom.
And we, comrades, are bound by an overarching administration – an oligarchy – that controls what we teach and how we teach it. Not just in my county, not just in my state, but at a federal level too. All 10th graders must be able to identify a seminal document and write a comprehensive, critical review of the piece. Bor. Ing. Sure, I will teach a seminal document – because history is important – but expecting kids, especially the slow ones, to suddenly be at a certain level because we have a high and mighty pacing guide is absurd and unrealistic.
When did we start treating kids as numbers in a system, as benchmarks, as thresholds, as fucking statistics, and stop treating them as people?
I love my job. I love working with those bright, shining stars – those kids who will one day have their names in history books – and I love working with those kids who will amount to little else. You have to take the good and the bad; tis part of the job.
But lately, Christ, lately it feels like a lot of bad is being cast upon my charges. They are expected to be groomed for standardized testing, to be able to do things they’ve little interest in, to be neat, cookie cutter clones of one another, where originality is frowned upon and self-expression is akin to murder.
Hogwash, I say, for I shall endeavor to ensure my charges – my budding authors, poets, journalists, doodlers, workmen, CEOs, and more – are allowed to be themselves. Sure, the path of knowledge is long and arduous, but many of them are showing promise beyond their means. Maybe they suck shit at essay writing, but they’ll bring your heart to a standstill as you read one of their creative pieces. Maybe they never turn anything in on time, but when you catch them one-on-one discussing poetry, you’ll find yourself surprised at their keen insight and deeper understanding. They could be serial killer quiet in class but their poetry – at 15-years-old – will impress you.
Those kids are our future, and we are doing them a disservice by expecting clones. Don’t try, kids. You’re better than that. You’re better than this system that doesn’t have your best interests at mind. You’re better than a system with its head so far up its proverbial ass, it can see through murky eyes.
Fuck the system. You do you, kids. Now finished your goddamned poetry projects and let’s raise hell.
My body was quivering with anticipation. This is it, I thought, it’s finally happening. Oh, how I had been dreaming about it for hours! Days, even! My lust for this moment had maddened me beyond reason. Ah, it had been so long I had almost forgotten what was in store for me.
Pleasure. Incomprehensible pleasure.
We were alone, just the two of us. Private. Secluded. The way it ought to have been. Perfect. Just us. We could take our time, really enjoy one another without intrusion. That’s the downside of Camino – rare are the moments where two can be alone for very long. Always had to be quick. Stupid quick; no time for passion.
But not this time. No, I had all the time in the world. This would not be quick. Everything would be enjoyed. Everything would be supped and savored. We would be locked in that embrace until the heat finally escaped us.
And that meant plenty of time.
We started slowly – didn’t want to use up all the passionate heat right off the bat. I let my hair down; always more fun with the hair down. But within moments I was dripping with sweat. Maybe it was a little too hot?
We turned it down, just a notch, just a bit slower. All the time in the world; no one would bother us here. Savor this, I thought, savor every moment.
That warm embrace, ah! How I felt it across my entire body. Slightly painful (still too hot?) against my bare back, but oddly comforting against my equally bare chest. Wet hair clung to my face; such passion! Can’t even see through the madness I was losing myself to; perfect! Everything around us was slick with perspiration, the air almost suffocating in our steamy embrace, but we carried on. I’ll clean up later.
I quivered throughout the entire session. That touch! Such fire racing throughout my body. Again and again I felt it, as if a million droplets of warmth were being thrown against my body. It had been far too long since I’ve tasted this, felt this, lived this!
Steam. I could see it now. I looked past – only for a moment – and gazed at my hand.
Yes, steam. Our passion had literally created steam rising from my bare skin. Incredible. The warm vapor was everywhere. I looked about but could scarcely see anything, such was the density. Incredible.
How I relished every moment. How I never wanted it to end.
But I felt it.
The briefest signal that things were coming to a climax; I must finish soon. Finish while the passionate heat still existed.
I moved quickly, hands racing here and there, ensuring no spot was left, that everything between us had been touched upon during our time together. Steam rose from my body, but I still raced. Time was running out after all.
With a cry of satisfaction, I allowed myself to finish. I gasped for breath; how could it have ended in such a manner? There’s never enough time, I thought. How I wish I could just enjoy this forever.
I turned the shower off, the last droplets of lukewarm water dripping against my face. When the temperature changes, you know it’s time. But after almost 36 hours without a shower, well, I could spend a little extra time in there, no?
Fuck, I love showers.
In the middle of traveling to a new location in Spanish territory folks; first shower since leaving Grado. I’ll report back once I’m set up in my new digs.
Thanks for reading; hope you got a laugh out of it.