Everything Has a Story

Everything has a story.

Every last little piece of goofy shit I have lying about my home, my classroom, even my car, has some sort of story behind it. The box of cookies from a student sits upon my table, next to a goody bag (from another student), a wad of yearbook receipts, and who knows how many novels and biographies?

But I could tell you e’ery detail about these objects, about how they influence and guide me, and why I keep them around. Some stories are simply worth holding on to.

And though I’ve told my students about not worrying so much about the future, it is a difficult thing to comprehend in youthful ignorance. But rest assured: we all get there in the end.

I have students who admit they don’t see themselves going anywhere with their Life. Students who admit they are afraid of their parents when bringing up Life after high school. I have those students who fear what the summer brings. And, of course, I have students who are absolutely terrified of the future. Plato’s Cave – those binding chains of comfortable ignorance – is a difficult place to escape, Prisoner.

The future is yet to be written; it is merely a Thing.

And every thing has a story.

Continue reading “Everything Has a Story”

Birthday

If any one has any videos of the forthcoming event, be a doll and share them with me via email. I’d like to see from your perspective.

Enjoy.


“Come over for a birthday beer!” she said. Of course I had already started on my birthday beers, my work being completed for the day and the spring sun reminding me that a patio drink actually sounded quite pleasant. “I’ve a Zoom at 4.” Plenty of time to share a drink with my dearest friend of a few doors down.

I tuck my cigarettes into my left front pocket, push a cozy over my Pabst, and pet the cat on the way out. My phone – which hasn’t stopped chirping with birthday notifications – is discreetly slipped into one of the many pockets of my Camino traveling shorts. I step out onto the front lawn and feel the paradoxical heat of the breeze.

Fuck me, I think, what a beautiful fucking day.

The rose bushes are devoid of blossoms; all save one.

I step into the soft grass (supple through dedicated watering sessions) and inspect the token blossom. It is pink – stunningly beautiful – but its edges have only begun to unfold. Three rose bushes and only this lone bud trying to break free to share its beauty with the world. The color, that splash of color like a New Mexico sunset – filled with purples and auburns and golds and mauves and yellows and reds – is about to grace the lawn.

So fucking beautiful.

I take a cigarette from my breast, light it up, and watch as the smoke mingles with the budding blossom. The haze is quickly dissipated by the endless breeze that marks the springtime of my desert oasis. The beer opens with a frothy hiss, and I idle for a few minutes admiring the simplicity of Nature’s realm. The sun beats upon my back, but still I cannot pull myself from the rose. She is too beautiful.

Coming to my senses and remembering I’m obligated elsewhere, I walk the half block to her new home. As my brother would later remark, my attire was delightfully that of a disheveled hobo: the stink of working in the lawn, shorts and shirt filthy from unwashed labor, Afghan Tactical Sandals upon my tanned feet, and the sweat-stained cap of a working man. Cigarette and beer in hand, I walk unhindered, ignoring the cop that passes swiftly behind me. An open container is certainly frowned upon, no doubt more so given my profession as an educator. Fuck it. The die is cast.

We sit on her patio for the first drink – a birthday beer of Dos XX – where the beating sun adds some color to my lower legs and makes the cigarette smoke seem harsher under the constant glow. We schwatz about this and that, about school and lawn care, about moving out and in, about the beauty of the day. Eventually we migrate inside to escape the sun’s amiable wrath, to sit in the cooler interior with colder beer. I nudge a poster board off the table so as not to warp it with beer condensation rings. She mentions an art project with the nephew. Beautiful.

I finish several in the time spent at her new place before she informs me her meeting is at hand.

I walk back to my place, the sun still beating, a new cigarette immediately replacing the last one, an endless cycle of self-mortification. Like a medieval flagellant, I punish myself to truly feel God’s glory.

The blossom greets me at the door, still a rosy pink, still incomplete.

My mother is supposed to come by (she needs help with another computer program and wishes to utilize my faster internet). I tidy up – no bachelor wants his mother to see him living in squalor – before she arrives. I down another beer and another cigarette. It’s too beautiful a day to be cooped up inside, and few things compare to a gentle New Mexico breeze and the shade of an old tree, vices in hand.

The doorbell rings and I quickly answer. Not my mother, but a pair of my students. They are dressed for the heat in athletic attire, one with a skateboard in tow. I remain in my hobo apparel; thankfully I left the beer on the table before answering.

“Happy birthday, sir!”

How the fuck did they know it was my birthday?

“Ah, kids! Thank you kindly!” I said. “How kind of you to come by.”

How the fuck did they know where I live?

We schwatz for a few minutes about the online schooling (a tragedy of corona) and how they’re keeping busy and occupied. Hence the athletic attire: out for a good run and skateboarding in Nature’s bounty.

I bid them farewell after some time, receiving further birthday well wishes and hugs good bye as they continue their adventures. How good of them to drop by unannounced; they care about you. I check the phone for the time and see further birthday notifications. Someone had squealed and now my students were bombarding me, not with homework questions or seeking advice, but wishing me well on this anniversary of sorts. Ah, my goombas. What would I be without them?

I return to the backyard wherein I finish another smoke and another bottle; consistency and pacing are key. Through the open windows I can see to the street. As the last ember begins to scorch my yellow-tinted fingers, I see the familiar outline of my mother’s vehicle. Both parents disembark, remark inaudibly about the state of the place, and make their way to the front door as I snuff out this latest cigarette.

They come in – without knocking – and immediately want to see the backyard.

“Where’s your laptop, Mutti?” I said.

“I wanted to see your computer.”

Well that’s fucking dumb, I thought.

“Show me the tomatoes.”

Jetz,” I said, gesturing to the back door.

As I show them the progress made with the endless amount of time (being a non-essential employee), my phone begins to vibrate ceaselessly in my pocket. I ignore it; as a rule, I do not check my phone with company present. That would be quite rude.

My mother’s phone begins to chirp – having no qualms about my sense of chivalry, she answers. I can hear my sister through the tin speaker (for she has always been loud). They schwatz for a minute as I show my father the woodpile.

“Your sister is coming by with a cake. Let’s go up front.”

“Fuck her,” I said. “She can come out back and deliver it.” Quarantine be damned.

My mother sighs. “She has two screaming kids. Go up front.”

I tense my grip on my latest beer but relent. Don’t argue with your folks, especially at my age. We make our way up front. Dad remarks that my flowers need more water and that my edging could use some work. He stops at the rose blossom and smiles. He knows far more than I.

As we wait for my sister’s untimely arrival, I hear a cacophony of car horns sounding out a marching beat. How irritating, I thought, for this is a nice neighborhood. I never liked the sound of horns; far too shrill and aggressive. It makes me think of grackles, those hideous birds that infest our area. I turn toward the noise.

Happy birthday, Bruno!

Sweet fucking Christ, I thought. What is this?

My sister is leading a caravan of cars – 15? 20? – a poster with birthday wishes taped to her vehicle’s front. The cacophony grows louder as I realize I’ve been hoodwinked. Her windows are down and she’s smiling and waving – proud sister that she is – as she passes by my place.

“Happy birthday, little brother!” she said as she glides past.

I’m dumbstruck and mouth a response. My hand automatically returns the wave without a thought. My other hand clenches my still-cold beer. The cacophony continues as the caravan makes its way down my street. Neighbors are coming out their front doors to see the commotion; they soon join in the fest by waving and shouting congratulatory remarks.

My brother and his family follow behind, a poster for Uncle Bruno stuck to their vehicle’s side. My nephews wave and cheer. My good friend – with whom I was sharing drinks not an hour ago – is grinning like a Machiavellian mastermind as they drive past. She fucking knew!

But the greatest surprise – the greatest gift – follows behind the family cars leading this Seussian romp: my students – past and present – have assembled in this parade and call from their cars. Windows are down and I can see my students, my beloved goombas, shouting and waving as they drive past.

“Happy birthday, Mr. B!” I hear them shout from their air-conditioned cars. It is a scene of mirth and surprise as the cars keep coming. I remain dressed as disheveled hobo, a beer in my hand, standing in the New Mexico sun as the parade continues. I wave dumbly back, shouting some thanks and gratitude to each student.

“Happy birthday, Bruno!”

“Mr. B!”

“Bruno!”

The shouts never cease, each car striving to outdo the other in noise and celebration. I am taken aback by this outpouring of love.

There, some of my seniors. My first batch of students when I began my calling as an educator. They are denied so many rights of passage given the corona, but here they are in a force, waving and shouting. My OG Goombas. I wave fondly; it’s been too long since I’ve seen them.

Here, my juniors, those blessed kids who’ve had the misfortune of having me for two years in a row. They make up the bulk of the parade – a mosaic of car styles and vehicle colors that raucously makes it way through the neighborhood. The honking is drowned out by the shouts and exclamations of my students, for their enthusiasm cannot be contained. With windows down, heads and arms are out; some offer gifts and cards, and I dumbly step into the street to accept their well-wishes and bid them onward.

I still have a beer in my hand.

More cars continue to flood the street as the ruckus continues; those little fuckers, I thought. They threw me a parade!

As I awkwardly accept packages and envelopes, the tears begin to well up behind my eyes. How kind of them. How thoughtful of them. How blessed are they to be doing such a thing for a grumpy smartass like me. The grinding of engines and honking of horns is drowned out by their shouts and guffaws; my heart is ready to burst at this outpouring of love. What a spectacle; what a scene!

I see my students in their cars, returning their enthusiastic waves and cheers with my own, as I force the tears to stay put. I’m not crying in my front lawn as my classes march past.

As the last of the cars complete their circuit, I realize my parents have been behind me this entire time. They fucking knew. Mom didn’t need computer help – she just wanted to keep me at home for the big reveal. The sun’s heat pales in comparison to the warmth in my breast; I love those fucking kids.

Eventually the parade peters out, though a few students make a circuit to drop off still more gifts and cards. A few parents offer me six packs of beer, which I clumsily accept in the middle of the street. One student offers me her poster (a new keepsake for my classroom) and others simply swing back around to say their greetings anew. Dumbstruck and humbled, I finally step back onto the grass and out of the street. The honking has ceased and the shouts have been carried off in the wind. The curious neighbors have returned to their homes. A small pile of gifts and cards litter the lawn.

I’ve been holding my beer the entire time. Robotically I take a drink; it’s now cowboy cold, warmed from my pumping blood and the spring sun. I don’t notice the taste.

My sister and brother pull their cars along the sidewalk. My brother’s in-laws join suit. Suddenly I’ve got an impromptu family gathering on my hands. They are all laughing and chattering, congratulating themselves on their expert planning and execution. My sister is the mastermind – outwitted by my dear sister! – and my dear friend kept mum over the course of several patio drinks. She gives me the poster – the very one I had remarked upon earlier. Gaily, they gather the gifts, place them inside, then retreat to the backyard to schwatz and relax. Planning a surprise is tough work, and before long I’ve got the grill going. My neglected phone continues to blow up with new wishes and gotcha’s!

My family stays for the unofficial gathering and drinks all my new birthday beers. Eventually they retire to tend to their families and households; I escort them out and bid final farewells to cap this day of surprising mirth.

The sun is beginning to approach the western horizon; soon the sky will be a mosaic of brilliant color. A picturesque way to send off this day. My phone chirps again.

“Do you like wine,” she said.

The day continues to get better.

I pause in my front lawn where only hours ago I stood awestruck as my kids led a parade. What a day. I turn back toward the front, stopping to admire the rose bushes.

She blossomed. A full, pink rose – more beautiful than I had anticipated – now graces the lawn. All it took was a day for her beauty to become full. It is Nature’s way of reminding me of today’s love.

My heart is a well of love, replenished and overflowing with today’s spectacle. My kids – my goombas – who defied quarantine to participate in this birthday parade. I hear their shouts, see their smiling faces; I let a tear of joy fall.

Those little fuckers, I thought. I love them.

Immortal

I’m watering my lawn with the fountainhead, taking care to ensure it’s an even spray. I take pride in this thing – nurturing it back to Life from a dead winter. It is spring, after all, and a verdant yard is a sign of happiness. The water streams forth from my outstretched hand, like a modern-day Thor calling the rain. I sweep left and right and the grass glistens with each bounty; I’m a Life giver.

I look to my car – a battered ’97 Jeep Cherokee – and see the old warhorse at stable. She’s rusting in several spots, the paint is chipped and peeling just about e’erywhere, and the fender I lost in a near-death experience a few years ago has yet to be replaced. The zip tie I had used to mend the broken plastic has long since rotted away in the New Mexico sun.

My arms sweep the lawn, but my glance keeps returning to the Jeep.

I turn the engine over, fire up the wipers, and spray down the windshield. A flurry of water and bug guts comes crashing over either side, furiously wiping left and right to rid the stains.

“Mexican style,” I can hear Marco say.

Marco.

We used to work together at the tire shop. A few years younger than I, he taught me how to use the machines without scratching a customer’s rim. He made me mount and dismount the same tire a hundredfold; I can do it with a pair of screwdrivers these days thanks to him. He showed me how to stack tires 10-high; an impressive feat for a skinny little white boy. He was a gordo, a big fuckin’ Mexican covered in tattoos, a cigarette always dangling from his lips, and a laugh that made the entire shop seem like a decent place to work. When I called him a wetback, he’d remind me my family was from Europe: he called me an oceanback.

Marco taught me how to ride a motorcycle (he drove mine home the first day because I didn’t have a license). We used to get high after work at his pad – a dumpy, little trailer with refuse and junk piled like a heap in the lawn. The front door didn’t lock, but, he assured me, “When my big ass comes out the door with my shotgun, ain’t no motherfuckers gon’ mess with me.” He was right – no one fucked with Marco.

He taught me some Spanish (how to ask a customer which tire was flat, basic pricing, and how to refer to a lady’s genitalia) and I taught him how to ask for marijuana in German. Basic translation stuff.

We used to hang out after work in the hot summers, kicking it at his pad or a coworker’s. We got high often. It’s where I met the town’s resident crack heads and methed-up loonies. They were always welcome at Marco’s – no one fucked with Marco.

His novia made tortillas. “Ese, she used milk! I ain’t ever seen no wetback use milk in their tortillas before, homes.” She wasn’t a wetback (by the strictest definition) and she’d go off on him in Spanish about how he was a wetback.

I’d sit there on his dog hair-encrusted sofas and politely chew tortillas.

I didn’t give a shit if she used milk or not, or whether she was wet or he was; those things were good.

“Hey guey,” I said trying on my new cholo slang, “when can we drink some beer and get fucked up?”

“Ah, pinche gringo,” he replied. “You fuckin’ Mennonites need to relax.”

Fuckin’ Mennonites.

One day we had a Mennonite come into the shop: blonde hair – blonder than mine – with piercing blue eyes. He wore the Mexican-style cockroach killer boots and a Stetson, driving a piece of shit hoopty that belonged in Marco’s yard. I approached him (white people were always my deal, the guys in the shop declared), but that guy took one look at me then started looking around for an important brown person.

He talked to Marco.

And Marco, God bless him, did indeed help the customer, but he let him know – in English and Spanish – that it’s rude to ignore someone because you assume they don’t comprende. We fixed his tire and sent him on his way.

“Man,” I said, “white people suck.”

Chinga,” Marco said. “You do, guerro.”

We laughed and got high after work.

The water is still going and some of it is has splashed onto my fancy shirt from decades past.

I remember Gus from the time I was working at Dillard’s o’er in Fort Worth. I hated the gig – I can’t sell shit to people who don’t need it – but I was a poor college student and my folks raised me to labor without complaint. And Gus, that fuckin’ guy, he war a breath of fresh air.

Gus.

I might’ve been 19 or 20 at the time, but Gus was in his mid-forties. He used to run a small tire shop, but the Great Recession saw him shutter the doors of his beloved business and force him to seek solace elsewhere. We became swift mates over mutual tire appreciation and general tomfoolery. That dude was a jokester.

He called my station one time – I worked the Daniel Cremieux fashion line (the Polo of Europe I was ordered to explain) – and put on a terrible French accent.

“Yes, zis is Daniel Cremieux; have you sold any of my shit?”

I lost a sale because I was too busy laughing to deal with a customer needing another cashmere sweater. Gus made that job worth it.

We worked on opposite sides of the store, but we routinely found ourselves shooting the shit at one another’s sections on slow days. And there were plenty of those in a global recession.

“Why the fuck are you working here,” he asked once.

I adjusted my suit top. “It’s a job,” I said.

“Yeah, and so is stripping.”

“Well,” I asked, “why aren’t you doing that?”

“Because I’m old and fat.”

We laughed.

He had a marvelous goatee, like something out of one of the Renaissance paintings held in the local art museum, that he kept very well-manicured. And with all his charm and good looks, he was quite the lady killer. Ah, to see him flirting with the girls as he helped them try on shoes they didn’t need to impress people they didn’t like; he could sell ice to Eskimos.

“I hate this fucking place,” he said.

“Why’s that?”

“There’s no soul – we’re selling useless shit to people who don’t need more shit.”

He was right; I shared the same sentiment. Retail was a nightmare – with all the quotas and double-dealings and ringing in sales and the constant organizing and the bitchy customers and the self-entitled pricks who served as our customer base. It was not a good job for someone as charismatic and affable as Gus. He wanted to be his own boss again, to return the carpet that had been rudely ripped from him.

I just wanted to be like Gus: confident, funny, charismatic, and attentive.

I turn the hose off, gently lay it in the grass, and watch the amber sun beginning its descent into the cooler spring night.

We got along well with Mark. Whereas Gus was the older chap whom everyone could rely on for a laugh and a farce, Mark was that guy every little boy dreams of becoming: smart, sexy, a total badass, and always with a new bombshell on his arm.

Mark.

Mark was like a younger version of Gus: a smart goatee, a sly smirk, and hair that begged to be pulled in the heat of rapture. The two got along famously; I likened myself to their young protégé.

Mark was older than me by about 6-7 years – mid-twenties and already sleeping with the branch manager (different department, he said, so no foul in the ethics committee). He’d laud us boys with tales of his conquests, of his solitary motorcycle chases that inevitably ended up with him in jail, and how he was a man’s man. No bullshit, the guy was real to the core.

Helpful, too.

Despite coming off as a braggadocios asshat the first time you meet him, you quickly learn he’s on your side. More than once he stuck up for me when my numbers were down. “He’s learning, boss man. Cut the kid some slack.” His charm – that wit – couldn’t be resisted. It was always a good time to be caught between Mark and Gus; you’d laugh and forget you worked a shitty retail job.

The hose ceases to hum as the water flow is finally cut off. The last drops drain into the now soaked grass; I can retire for the evening. The sun continues to descend, inch by inch, upon the endless New Mexico horizon. Gray begins to move in from the east as the vibrancy of the west gives ground.

Laugh and forget, just like how Beck used to say.

“Fuck you, man,” I can hear him say through his pudgy face. “You’re just a fucking communist.” We laughed because we didn’t know what communism was in high school and profanity is always encouraged amongst teenage peers. He’d shake a meaty fist in my face and threaten me with violence.

Beck.

We went to high school together, that blessed alma mater, wherein we became swift friends. Like a modern-day Friar Tuck, Beck was loud, big, and jovial. When we did sneak liquor onto campus, he always had to have a little more – bigger boy. And, like Friar Tuck, he wasn’t without his wisdom here and there. But mostly he made us laugh. Everything is funny at that age.

As high school teenage boys are wont to do, insults often started with one’s lineage and maternal figures. How horrible we were to one another’s mothers in private, but how polite and respectful to their faces. Claiming your classmate’s mother gave you fellatio is a hell of a bullshit lie, no matter what modern porn tries to convince you. But that is how we talked – and still talk to this day.

But, Beck, kindly giant that he was, had his gaffe moments.

“Fuck you, midget,” he said. True, compared to him, I was quite dwarfish.

“Fuck you, fatass,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, making the universal sign for jerking off someone’s erection. “That’s what your mom did to me.” He grinned.

“Fuck you, fatass,” I repeated. “She couldn’t find your wormy dick under your jelly rolls.”

That always got him – the fat jokes.

He was angry now, his face turning as red as the setting sun, and he tripped over his words in his rage.

“Yeah,” he sputtered. “Your mom.” He pointed at me. “Her balls. My mouth.” He pointed at himself.

There was silence amongst the lads as we tried to process – and confirm – what he had just said.

It was shattered by raucous laughter.

“Wait, dude, you suck balls?”

He grew redder.

“With your mouth?”

More laughter – he had fucked up and we let him have it.

“Fuck you! And fuck you guys!” He stormed out of the room, slamming the wooden door behind him.

That fuckin’ guy.

The sun is now set; the grass will live another day, absorbing the water so carefully given. Nourishment, like a god from above, given to the thirsty denizens of the world. An apt metaphor.

But my friends of yesteryear won’t see this lawn.

Marco and Mark were killed in motorcycle accidents.

Gus and Beck took their own lives.

Little things, like splashing water on a windshield or watching the sunset, remind me that these gentlemen aren’t here with me any longer in the physical sense, but, despite the years and the inevitable turning of time, they remain immortal within me.

It takes Death to do that.

What am I doing with my Soul? Part IV

Howdy folks,

Continuing the discussion over the Emperor’s words, here’s the final installment (the final bit I wrote in class last week) where I do exactly what I ask of my troops.

Enjoy.

Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part IV”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part III

Howdy folks,

As promised, the third installment of the What am I doing with my Soul? series courtesy of Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher-Emperor of Rome. If you’re just now joining us, well, flip back to Part I and Part II for the meat and potatoes. Otherwise:

Context – I make my English classes write and write often. This week they’re writing me three essays (over the course of three days; I’m not a sadist) over various AP materials, but last week – oh, last week! – they penned a response to the Emperor’s question posited in Book IV of his Meditations: what am I doing with my Soul? Since I use plenty of philosophical material in the classroom (to induce critical thinking), it was little wonder the Emperor would make his way to our collective desktops. But, as Sun Tzu and LTC Agor taught me, if you ask your soldiers to do something, be prepared to do it yourself.

And so, as my young charges penned responses to the Emperor, I too took to the challenge for each class period, writing in cramped, yet calm, script as I shared my thoughts with the page.

And now, dear reader (and student?), I share them here with you. Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part III”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part II

Howdy folks,

Building off of the last post, here’s the second part. Here we are attempting to answer the Emperor’s question: what am I doing with my Soul? I had all of my English classes write a response, the better able to understand themselves via self-reflection. But, like a good captain, I will bivouac in the same muck as my troops.

Enjoy. Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part II”

What am I doing with my Soul? Part I

Howdy folks,

I could give you a veritable litany of excuses, but I fear none shall suffice for my failure to write. I just – haven’t felt it, ya know? And I ain’t about forcing shit down peoples’ throats if it ain’t something worth writing. Damndest thing, I know, but my Bukowski has made his impact upon me.

On the obverse, however, I did write a slew of things in class on Friday. If the Army taught me anything it was to suffer alongside your troops.

Context: I make the little fuckers write all the time. Writing is expression; it allows one to understand themselves. I’ve been harassing my charges for months now on their AP writing, and over the course of the previous week, I had them study philosophy and ethics (gentlemen, you’ll thank me after you successfully use pathos, logos, and ethos on that date). I’ve been reading Meditations by the Emperor – the Marcus Aurelius – and I was gobsmacked by a question he posited:

What am I doing with my Soul?

I lay awake in bed mulling the question over before I decided that this – this – would be the essay topic for the week. I had my charges write a response to the Emperor’s question whilst I penned my own, one for each period, before transcribing them below.

For my charges who wished for a Free Write, well, here ya go:

Continue reading “What am I doing with my Soul? Part I”

On Writing (Or: Vulgar Advice for Teens)

I can’t force myself to write – it always seems lacking in humanity. That fresh-with-blood, slick-as-a-wound kind of humanity that draws a reader in by the throat, holds them in a death grapple while simultaneously banging their head against the wall and forcing them to sing.

Fuck; now that’s an image.

But the writing process, comrades, is one I’ve yet to master. Oh, sure, all the little old ladies at church think my writing is “beautiful” and “poetic” but I think they’re overlooking the amount of fuck’s and dick jokes I make when penning absurdity. It’s shit; it always is.

And yet. Yet I continue to do it.

Continue reading “On Writing (Or: Vulgar Advice for Teens)”

Camino Frances: Another Fortunate Misfortune

Another overcast day, a distant rain slowly encroaching upon us as the Galician sun seems nonexistent in this wet wonderland. The buildings of the area are new – post-Franco – but they lack the charm the rest of the Spanish countryside has held to her captive audience. Pre-fabricated and painted in obnoxious colors, they contrast with the verdant countryside just beyond the city borders.

I exhale a cloud of smoke, a Spanish brand, and its unctuous fumes waft back over me like a freighter steaming along past its own flatulence. My coffee sin leche sits on the damp table, a colorful parade of ponchoed pilgrims mustering past like students on their way to Hogwarts. They march because they must. They are all robed in these strange plastic garments, looking bedraggled and low-spirited, their energy matching the gloomy atmosphere of Mother Nature.

Fuckin’ tourists, I think to myself between puffs of cancer and caffeine. The previous day saw an explosion of pilgrims upon the Camino as the 100km mark proves an enticing starting point for many people seeking absolution (and that magical piece of paper that proves you visited the holy city). Despite my desire to remain non-judgmental, I find it a taxing task as hordes of Spanish teenagers – as loud and obnoxious as Americans – trundle along the path without packs, accompanied by their overweight parents who bustle and huff under the strain of their burgeoning wallets and empty day packs. That is not Camino, I think. There is no suffering.

My coffee finished, my cigarette burning my fingertips and near singeing my pathetic travel mustache, I groan along with my aching body as I saddle myself once more to join the march of pilgrims. I must top off on water and find a fountain adjacent to the cafe, dropping my freshly saddled pack onto the wet cement, and snag my two bottles. The button gives way easily enough; it isn’t near rusted shut like in the smaller villages.

With fresh water, I resupply my pack and replace the plastic rain cover. It snaps, then tears, in my soaked hands.

Fuck, I think aloud.

The clouds seem to threaten to burst that very instant as I look dumbfounded at my latest misfortune. First the boots splitting near two weeks into my adventure. Then my leg giving out shortly after. A rain jacket that doesn’t stop rain. And now a quite useless pack cover on a very rainy morn.

I laugh aloud to the fountain, startling an old woman walking her mutt along the main street and waking a bum who slept under a nearby awning. It can’t be repaired and no one around here uses duct tape for some strange reason. But I recall a pilgrim shop nearby that could carry new supplies; with curses and praise for my misfortune upon my breath, I stomp back up the hill.

The shop doesn’t open until 9 and I’ve two hours to kill afore then.

I return to the cafe, order another coffee, and light up another cigarette. I sit once more in my freshly dampened seat, admire the pilgrims who, though seem to be suffering, continue their journey in their colorful carcinogens as I wait impotently along the sidelines.

It is not wrong, I breathe. It is not right, I exhale, that familiar cloud canvassing me like a warm embrace, a much needed comfort on this rather bleak start to a day.

It is Camino.

Camino Frances: I’mma Spank that Mass

It’s near about 6 and I’ve been walking for close to 10 hours. The heat gave way long ago to the overcast clouds of Galicia, which in turn opened up as if it was Noah’s flood. In the uphill struggle of this rugged, mountainous country, I find myself laughing – shaking a friendly fist to the heavens – as I become drenched to the bone in mere moments after walking out from under the tree coverage.

The fantastic views of O Cebreiro – where one can see for hundreds of kilometers in unmolested beauty – were soon replaced by the valleys of the countryside. Resplendent stone villages appear periodically throughout the spotted, near-uninhabited landscape, but they offer few services. Many of the villagers sit there looking at me, that noxious smoke permeating the air, like a cat might ponder its food before crassly murdering it without so much as a second thought. I am a novelty – entertainment for these villagers lost to time. The Visigoths. The Arabs. The Hapsburgs. Napoleon. I’m just another out-of-place foreigner on his inevitable way.

The rain continues to fall, yet I remained determined to make my way to the small village of Samos, home to a splendid monastery renowned for its history of pilgrim hospitality. It is the feast day of Saint James – 25 July – and I intend on making the Pilgrim’s Mass in honor of the saint who bids me e’er onward to his near-mythical burial ground. It is a near 40km walk, but I am resolute.

The pain in my left leg is amplified by the cold rain, the tightened leather boot, and the rough road, but I find myself able to plant my staff into the damp ground, push forward, and grit my teeth through each bitter step. To think, my ancestors once made this walk in ages past – when witchcraft was a thing and possession by the Devil was the go-to explanation for every malady.

And here I was bitchin’ about a sore ankle.

The kind bartender at the last village said Samos was near 10km away; she deceptively smirked when I shook my head in resignation. That pilgrim’s resignation of accepting his miserable fate: if it is 10km, then I walk 10km. She poured me another beer, politely declined my gratitude, and bid me buen camino as I marched out the door and into the wilderness of Galicia.

The rain has been falling for what seems hours and I curse the gentleman in Medina who sold me this lemon of a rain jacket. It stops the water in the same manner the Maginot Line stopped the Germans at the onset of World War II: a great idea but a very poor execution. Within minutes of tramping the waterlogged paths, I am soaked to the bone, the jacket proving little more than a colorful addition to my pilgrim ensemble. No matter, I think, for those who trod this path before faired far worse. My staff digs deep into the mud, and I plod onward to Samos.

My right foot feels different than the left, and under the somewhat cover of an elderly oak, I find the seams have split once again. I curse my misfortune – a waterlogged boot on this Biblical day – but I again remind myself it is part of Camino. “Shit happens,” as we say in English, and after resting for a few moments, I begin my uphill, soaking trudge once again.

The tourist demands; the pilgrim accepts.

After what seems hours – long after what should have happened in 10km – I finally glimpse a sign: Samos .5KM. At last! Civilization within sight. I cross under a bridge and meet two fellow pilgrims, who, rather than experience the torrential downpour, have decided to camp underneath until the storm calms. We laugh at our situation, exchange cigarettes and stories, and I eventually continue on my journey. It is late in the day, I find myself utterly fatigued, and I desperately need a bed for the evening. The pain in my left leg prevents me from stopping too long: if I stop, I fear I cannot start again.

Bidding them farewell, I walk into the maelstrom and soon find myself within the limits of the ancient village of Samos. Sadly, no black-robed monks are there to greet me as I enter the town. In fact, most of the villagers look at me rather quizzically: who is this quixotic figure tramping through God’s watery fury?

With joy, having glimpsed the monastery from the top of the hill entering the village, I whistle my way through the desolate town square. A few Spaniards sit under eaves smoking their noxious cigarettes, tapping their canes and gesturing at my absurdity, but I remain undaunted as I limp into the church. A group of tourists stand agape at my entrance, perturbed by this soaked rat of a man who, in happy misery, whistled and waltzed his way into a sacred place.

An Irish tourist takes pity on me as the Spanish brothers go about their preparations: this was the entrance to the guided tour. The albergue was around the monastery, near 200m from where I had dropped my pack. Undaunted, and rather cheerful, I thank the woman, resaddle myself, and truly limp the last distance into the albergue.

I spot his green hat before he recognizes me.

“And where have you been,” he asks in his comforting Londoner accent?

“Brian! Comrade!” I shout in response, giving him a hug as I enter the dry tranquility of the monastery’s dormitory.

He returns my hug in the British sense – rather awkwardly – and gestures toward the dorms. “This man has been asking about you for several days.”

It is Francisco, the Spaniard from Astorga, with whom I have shared many meals, rooms, drinks, and smokes.

He waves as one does to a long-lost friend. “Hola Bruno!” he shouts. “Permisso un cigarette?” he gestures, making the universal sign for needing a smoke.

I laugh – soaked to the bone – and shake my head no.

I haven’t seen these guys in days and they immediately want to celebrate.