Characters… Characters… you have met a few during your travels.
Example: your hostess in Berlin. She’d just joined couchsurfing.com, and for whatever reason felt compelled to accommodate all 14 couch requests she received the day after your arrival. When you live in a popular city, you are going to get a lot of requests, so whatever compels her to book everyone… you’re not sure. Maybe she is lonely. That is possible. Well, she claims she likes her solitude. She lives by herself in a large flat. But then again, she admitted to you that she used to care for 37 rats for five years. Repeat: thirty-seven rats for five years, which took 4-5 hours a day of commitment, followed by 6-7 hours once a week to clean her apartment (she told you about this in excruciating detail). Not only did she cook organic food twice a day for these little guys, but she read them bedtimes stories, crooned to them, and treated them as her children. Riiiight… well, no rats anymore. Now she cares for couch surfers. You didn’t stay long enough to get to know her any better, beyond noticing that she talked endlessly and would leap from one topic to the next with no transition whatsoever, always punctuating with a nervous laugh.
You left Berlin. Took the tram the farthest point from the city, “close” to the motorway, and tried to find an on-ramp. Three hours of walking later, you still had not found it. Turns out the roads are badly mislabeled and you walked approximate 20 kilometers with god-knows-how much weight on your back, only to finally strand yourself on the WORST turnpike in history. Really. No shoulder, contruction everywhere, and GERMAN people who don’t pull over for ANYONE. COME ON! You don’t want to lend this entry to bad stereotypes (but, honestly, that’s where it is headed), but your experience of German people and hitch hiking this entire trip has been a bad one (barring your sweet truck driver, Rene). There was that first crazy guy who took you the wrong direction and dumped you on the side of the autobahn, and then a second guy did the same. It is illegal to hitch hike there, but no one seemed to care. Sooo… after spending approximately two hours (making five total, with that backpack) standing at the turnpike, jumping up and down, smiling, waving your sign, pleading with those people to give you a break, you finally broke down into tears of frustration. Short-lived tears. Two minutes, tops. And then you gave yourself a pep-talk. Pull it together, Stevens! If you can get through this, then you can get through anything. You crawled through a contruction site, landed on the autobahn, and started walking. Finally, a nice married couple pulled over and took you just north of Dresden–brought you miles out of your way to a camp site and wished you luck, as it was getting late. Six Euro to pitch your little tent for one night? Six Euro for the small privilege of a bathroom? You thought not, waited patiently as the couple drove off and annoyed the most IMPATIENT camp site attendant, who was squawking at you in German to pay her. When the couple had driven away, you looked at the ancient little lady and told her in German, “I will not camp, sorry,” and bounded off, hoping that married couple would not sense you had shrugged off their good will. But honestly. Six Euro saved! You marched but a quarter mile away from the camp site and pitched your tent in a secluded field. Nice. Though it had been so long since you’d pitched that bad boy that you had forgotten how, and the mosquitoes bit opportunistically at your exposed ass.
You made it to Prague easily the next day. A family found you by the road headed to Dresden, said they had seen you the night before at Lidl, and almost thought to offer you a place to sleep with them. They took you south, and you spoke to the father who had an outrageous laugh: outragously loud, outrageous-sounding, and apparently outraging (or at least causing mortifying embarassment to) his children. He asked you if you believed in Jesus and insisted you go to mass with them. Uhh… no thanks. After Dresen, another family took you all the way to Prague (unable to speak English, so making up for it by buying you coffee and trying to force-feed you sandwiches and sodas), and got completely lost, so in order to avoid getting whisked away to the airport with them, you practically leaped out of the moving vehicle in the middle of fucking nowhere outside the city center. But hey, you don’t mind walking. Walked in the wrong direction until you found a couple abaondoned houses. Not to disappoint Neil, you went inside and tried snapping photos. Too bad the sound of rats scurrying through garbage sent you running out the door, terrified of Nazi Zombie Junkies!
The Czech Republic was amazing. The people were great, Prague is breathtakingly beautiful, and the beer is about a dollar a pint. Can’t say no to that! Your host was a lawyer who was studying philosophy on the side, and who lived with two professional athletes, so you got along swimmingly. During your first evening, you found yourself immersed in deep philosophical and political discussion over five pints and a few cigarettes (later in the week, this deep discussion lost its luster as you found yourself discussing less-than-novel subject matter with someone who actually has opinions—strong, uncompromising ones—whereas, you have none, which leads both parties to frustrated stale mate). In the days that ensued, you were introduced to the new coolest exercise toy in the world (The Aquafit), read a couple books, and were (re)exposed to a Czech photographer by the name of Saudek. You also wound up dropped in a party where you found yourself spray painting all over the walls of an apartment, from which the hosts were recently evicted with no warning.
Time to move on. Your next move was completely random. Really just came out of nowhere. Getting a place to sleep in Prague is much easier than in Berlin or Amsterdam. You had three willing hosts and were only able to stay with one. One of the others, Miso, a Slavic man of 24, inspired you to meet him anyway. He mentioned that he was going to Slovakia at the end of the month for several days, in order to help his father build a cottage in the mountains. Building? Mountains? Cottage? New country? Sold. You asked him if he needed any help, testified to your strength and experience, and it was a done deal.
Something Miso, his father, and his friends are: Christian. Very, very, very Christian. Good Christian folk. Such good people. Sweet, kind, accommodating, and good. So friggin’ good you don’t know how to digest it all. Like eating an entire heart-shaped-carrot-love-cake in one sitting, spending time and discussing life with devout people can leave you feeling a little sick. Not sick like disgusted, but sick like too much of a good thing—like something so sweet, you find yourself coming back for more even though there is a diminishing return that eventually makes you sicker (that is, more alienated).
But besides this underlying nausea you felt (kidding!), it was mostly frustration. You really didn’t have much to relate to these kind folks that didn’t further alienate you from them. For instance, what are you, Maria, supposed to say to the 27-year-old vigin who has been with his fiancee for four years and has never even given or received oral sex?! What can you possibly say to contribute to THAT converstation? “Wow, so… wow. That is… ummm, impressive. I commend you for your values, I think. Yes. I do! It is important to know that you love someone regardless of lust for her.” Good job, Stevens. Way to fit in. But then, “So, like, what if after four years of knowing your fiancee, after you get married and seal the deal, you find that you don’t actually have any sexual chemistry with her?” Legitimate question—and a random guy sharing your car on the train was nodding in agreement with you. Seriously. Sex does matter, and no amount of love should change that fact. If you do not have sexual chemistry, then your decision to stay together becomes merely a matter of will, and nothing more. (So much for not having opinions, Stevens!). But in their opinion, Will is enough; divorce is out-of-the-question-completely-unacceptable.
That conversation made your head spin, but not nearly as much as trying to find common political ground with members of a former-Communist country. You certainly appreciate where they are coming from, and find it endearing that they are enthusiastically waving flags in the name of freedom, choice, and capitalism. They come from a world that offered too few freedoms; and you come from a world that offers too many. One extreme is not neccessarily better than another, and you calmly tried to explain to them the evils of the free market and an America-inspired sense of entitlement.
This wasn’t a major thorn in your foot. It’s just that again you found yourself less and less enthusiastic about engaging in political discussion with people who believe in something. And what does that say about you? The problem is you, and your lack of beliefs that leaves you feeling hollow and uninspired. Oh well.
Something that didn’t leave you feeling hollow… something you consider mildly life-altering: you went back into The Closet. Wait. What? You? Captain Gay, back in The Closet? Explain, please.
After a week suppressing your views (or lack thereof) with your host in Prague, your anti-Capitalist sentiments with Miso and his father, and your anti-sex-after-marriage stance, you found yourself suppressing you fucking sexual orientation. It is one thing to Cover—mute aspects of yourself in specific circumstances; it is another thing to just Be In The Closet—to Pass as a heterosexual (like you thought it would even be possible for you at this point!). With every new person you meet, you have to choose how and when you are going to out yourself, and you generally accomplish this task within the first few hours. If you don’t do it early, it just makes the moment of “Oh, wow, you’re gay?” a little more awkward. Just a little. Little increments of awkwardness building up over a lifetime = stress. Why should you have to stress out?
But when you realized that you were keeping company with Bible-thumping-pray-and-cross-oneself-before-every-meal folk, you decided not to push out of the Closet just yet. After listening to the 27-year-old virgin, you actually pulled the door closed. And when Miso’s father finally dropped the “I know homosexuality is an illness” bomb, you dead-bolted that door shut with an ominous thud. You not only made sure to speak of your inimate relationships in male or gender-neutral terms, you found yourself trying to be more conservative as well. You took out your labret piercing, stuck to long-sleeved shirts that covered your tattoos (particularly the Gay Rainbow and Baby Devil), obscured your tongue and navel piercings, and actually started praying. Oh god, and you apologized for eating red meat on Friday, thinking it was okay to work on Sunday, and for taking The Lord’s name in vain over and over again every time you fucked up while bowling in the town’s hotel.
You’re not sure if they are on to you and are simply being tolerant, or actaully don’t suspect that you are, in fact, the scummiest of scumbags in their pious eyes: an Amoral-Slutty-Drug-Abusing-Homosexual-Divorcee! Did you forget anything? Well, at least you can work. And if there is one thing Slavic people love, it is good-hard-workin’ women—the kind that can carry trees on their backs out of the forest, while pregnant with their eleventh child.