– There are some insufferable cities in this world where haughty cosmopolitanism is best observed through the pride taken by inhabitants in noting the cornucopic linguistic offerings swelling over the overcrowded streets and dumpster-shackled neighborhoods. Places like Paris, New York, London, Berlin, you know, and they are also of course the most sought after destinations, caught in a spiral reaffirmed via their diversity: the modern technicolor of the new metropolis, the product of movements of people seeking the fulfillment of basic needs – though we can’t forget the ever-expanding pathology of the now long-corrupted American Dream, a phenomenon based solely on precisely the enlargement of wants and needs via the surpassing of the base, whereby however paradoxically they edify the base-ness as such, turning the tables on hierarchies of value. The fluidity of bourgeoise migration, given its status as a great but undirected cultural power, takes as its drive the arguably fetishized notion of diversity. The question is whether the hegemonic homogeny of the new globe-trotting class will result in an expansion of its values and paradigms, subsuming the vast arrays of shades and hues it finds so pleasant in its polished-vapid disposition, thereby bringing about their evaporation and its own irrelevance.
The rest of the human-hubs are also subject to a general trend of globalization, of course, but there are forgotten pockets scattered throughout. Ours, the mar of activity on the aging, cellulitic ass of Europe. Language is limited here, yet it overflows. Waste waste waste of words, there is no need to keep them precise, no pressure. Bucharest, I think, in a certain sense, slumbers while much of the world pants and sprints, restless nevertheless, caught in the type of waking exhaustion, laden with the crippling headache of a long binge, that constrains the weary subject to a self deprecative tossing and turning, ensnared in soiled sheets.
Not so much occasionally but regularly there is the bliss of ignoring all of this, of the gluey haze broken only by throbbing blanketed rage at the clang of life moving by, unaided and unabated by its awareness of itself; one must only live the proper…
– Shit. Cut it out.
And there ensues the lightly veiled, barely barbed criticism of long exposure, and there will be an apology tomorrow. Not that anyone else heard, the words come in the form understood as proper drinking talk. No one else need be aware of their history in, staring at filthy spots, unspoken rules inadvertently broken. No, there is nothing gratuitous about his words, at least nothing more gratuitous the rest. Maybe we differ here: I am preparing excess through its enactment. There is no world where gushing words like these have no place at this table. I plan exhaustion, pushing outwards and outwards, keeping the tedious balance. While there is no apology necessary, it is always a joy to say so, to look past each other’s eyes upon departure the next day, heads ringing. The buzz continues, I stub and lift, look downwards.
One of the great joys in this city is to sit near a manhole. Not any manhole, but by a fervent one, fermenting, shallow and barely closed, whether sealed to prevent theft or so corroded that it has lost all value, lost the pull of the downtrodden, who would scrape away the crud searching for the old treasure. Gullets exuding the halitosis of the last century’s final supper, providing me the object of gaze, wondering where I will go when it is all said and done. To rot in the chemical soup, one with the terrifyingly named molecules that German-made filters manage to pull out of water but not wine, but the path could drag, singeing my tangibility into the clouds and tossing me back to be swept away by one of those stoic rivers to a dying sea, forever caught in lighthearted mortality. Will the rain that rejects my carbon from the heavens keep my vitriol and leave fields sallow like the bags under my eyes, obfuscated under a warm light after being forced from rest? Or will it nourish as I never did, finally reconciling my base and acid. The coming Fall brushes by, lifts that sweet scent past the grates emblazoned with national pride. Untarnished, it doesn’t look back. I push down on the armrests, steady the flimsy nickel, screech backwards on two feet.
Quieted, I brace for the cacophony, the price of pushing forward against the bitter and the growing viscosity, to keep plugging despite the tongue having lost the ability to taste the crude sugars or appreciate the drudging fizz. I saunter, draining the dregs on principle. Behind the bar there is no love for me, and best it is kept that way. Business and pleasure and all that sort of thing.
I return, laden. She sees somewhat past me to as I sit, or maybe somewhere stopped short, close to the spot at our feet where the ash is gathering. One way or another, you will not be there when I wake up. We don’t need to drink coffee together, I don’t need to ask if you want sugar, report its absence if you ask for milk. Tonight you will probably not even have to leave in the middle of the night, leaving me bleary and somewhat indifferent at the door. Famous psychological experiments on rats confirmed what we predators have always known: reward obedience only sometimes, and you will always be obeyed. It is a shame: as soon as this technique is identified, how does one extract it? Will I ever be again able to believe that I have departed of manipulation, or will it always be, at best, latent? Every action has a part in it; its mere possibility is its inevitability. Tonight I will reach home alone as well, unsure why, hopefully oblivious.
I will sleep well. I will wallow in having no excuse not to clean myself, not wonder whether you will notice the off yellow here and there on my ill-conceived white bed sheets, the cigarette burns, dirt, hair. The carcasses of insects fallen from their lofted resting place in the light fixture. You have only seen my room dark, and I rarely turn on the lights. One day I will clean the glass and transfer their remains to the swamp wafting up from the open drain.
I look at the manhole again. Are the sewers deeper elsewhere than here? How many graying cities are beneath, reposing themselves for excavation, or final burial when ours’ collapses. Ancient cities must have shallow sewers; it’s easier to dig through dirt than decayed civilization. We relish the former, abhor the latter. I wonder how deep Rome goes. SPQR. I think they are right: All Roads Lead to Rome. They certainly don’t lead anywhere around here. Forward to nowhere.
The revelers are thinning but here there will be no last call. Or rather, we will have done ourselves in and out well before they conspire to shove us elsewhere. Hard work, this.
Which will this be? Does it matter? Clear, strangely full for this part of the city. Ah, relief, it was getting cold out there wasn’t it.
Why not? If we are staggering at this point, I do not know, the Earth is benevolent in ability to rock to and fro against our sways, cradling the weak, the core’s concentricity assured. The door frame ducks to brush matted hair, the bar raises to accept our bloated weight.
– How we move the world!
Not heard, better so. In the wafting white noise of nostalgia-laden pop and the oppressive silence of my companion, I grasp my shot glass with seven fingers for stability as the world drains into its translucent maw. Aniseed, with water. What joy, to order a drink like this. Licorice cowers with a scowl of spite at its more beloved cousin; what a use for such a useless excess of nature!
Clouded. Efflorescence? No that’s salt, what is this? I once knew a boy, a man maybe now, who would use this word while cooking… It’s an oil though, you know, an oil just like the filth that tries to escape out bloated skin, will try to escape our bloated faces tomorrow, our bodies desperately trying to rid themselves of our poisons. But we work at cross purposes, you know? We want it out, but we want it in clearly, otherwise it would not pustel and boil, colonies of life forms trapped in us, of us. Pure and white the eek out, stained with the blood of our impatience.
Lights flash on, the grimaces of forced smiles wheat pasted on empty faces gurgling and washing into one another, the effort of their contortions lain bare. Offenbarung! Detrital deluge of depraved decay. Damn, I’m good… Diuretic…
The bathroom lurches towards me, and suddenly am alone in fluorescent sanctum. Seems less golden in this light. And I am redder and smaller than I remember.. The hell is that? that wasn’t there. Oh wait, lint, nevermind. Shit, stay on course, but don’t worry too much, no one touches anything around here anyway. You can tell a girl who frequents the bar by how developed her glutes are. Self-reinforcing. I tilt my head to breathe the air slightly about my brow line.
The bar, not the lounge. Certainly not the club, no one pees in a club bathrooms. Clubs develop thighs and calves, tear sinuses, eat souls. Is this my first tonight, seems long enough to be so, and what the fuck is that noise.
– Stai un pic, pula mea!
Good thing I am the great origin off all that is clean and good in this world. No mirror, no sink, no worries. What shoes am I wearing?
I slip out of the bathroom, and her – no I don’t know her I don’t think – smile twists to scowl loosens into befuddlement as my ghost-clown mask juggles synchronized brows. Forgot she could see me.
– There you are, we go now?
Back into the brisk of night, we join the emulsion trickling deeper into the guffaw of a once vibrant ode to the world’s former cultural capital. Different gusts of cheap cologne percolate from slicked hair, different enticements are offered, and where I would have apologized I smile and almost acquiesce. But we keep moving, alliances break and join anew, our exodus becomes biblical in thrust, the necessarily ambiguous promised land looms yet unseen as our infighting grows more calamitous. We need a leader, but cannot unite. I hear words, brush shoulders, fight the now treacherous gyrations of the earth, tear papers with fingers of dry sausage. Hunger, how to satisfy without regret? – Wait stop, just one second.
– What is it, man, you ok?
– The shaorma smell made me really desperate to smoke and I cannot pilot myself and the cigarette at the same time. Do you think the cows they use have cancer?
– Don’t think whence you eat. But yes I’m sure.
– Don’t shit where you eat. I wouldn’t mind being a shaorma then, when I grow up.
– Listen man, just take one of mine, and lets keep going.
– I don’t want your corporate crap, I will suffer and support the black market, there’s honesty in that.
As I press and twist, he takes the materially-dubious pouch from its perch between the weakest fingers, inspects the deceitful exterior, coated with some sort of textured-brown to give away the impression of something natural, pulled from the loving bosom of mother earth herself and delivered directly to you, the consumer, via the mud-cached hands of an honest laborer who planted, watered, cut, cured, shredded, tested the toxic weed in a room made of stone not cinder on his own land, free from the oppression of larger concerns, meticulously checking for the flavor of his father with the honesty of his mother, transmuting the sanctity of craft passed from generation forward, changing barely enough with time’s oscillations to maintain its integrity and existence. Lest we look at the sheen of the interior, notice the lack of any such marketable claims, which even the dullest of farmers would be remiss to neglect.
– You pay the Hungarian taxes? I thought you despised the Magyars.
– Enemy of my enemy is my friend, my friend. But we all know I don’t have a horse in that race anyway. Our beloved Iohannis will just have to learn the hard way. No place for principles in markets.
– No politics man, and he doesn’t make the taxes. Whatever, come on.
Cracked pavement winds as we drift forward. Someone ask me for money at a door, I hand him some, it’s not enough, now it’s too much, there is no satisfying you!
Inside, the blur of faces swept up in a banal tide shuffle between bars, searching for the shortest line. Always to the left, wait no they moved it, still to the left but not as much. And pivot, good. This and that, that and this. Hello there, I thought I’d lost you. Fuck it why not, just had one but it can’t hurt.
The absence of smoke distresses, nostalgia for the acrid security of anonymity stirs in its sleep. It starts, fitful.
How did you find me? Were you looking? There is a hug, pressure everywhere it ought not be. Lights glint with malevolent glee on the newly polished faux chromium.
– Hey, whats up? When did you get here?
Just now, a few hours, came right here; the people in the hostel told me it was the place to be. Certainly, certainly, we all end up here somehow usually, will you stay? Going somewhere, ok ok, tomorrow evening something, wow short stop, uh huh, do you like it so far? Good good, don’t tell anyone though; keep the secret in peace.
I feel my eyes pulling at themselves, wider than they were all night, but seeing nothing, glazed and unfocused. An open wound. Your friend did what? Why? Wait hold on, my hand feels empty, I need an object, preferably small cold and strong. Come with.
Smudging the steel, may the gods envy our libations. So, what was it again? I mean, it looks pretty bad, you are taking care of it of course? Ha, I suppose if you get enough down your throat the blood could disinfect itself. But have you spoken since then? Still a friend you say? You need her you say?
I wonder who I have pushed down a hill. I certainly myself, but I wouldn’t call myself a friend anymore. That good word, Entfremdung. Does it need the Selbst, or is it already understood, or is one already separated, I mean, was there ever really a ‘self’ to speak of? The constant unfinished work of reconciliation. Wait, hold up one more time, who did what now?
He wakes to the blanketing drone in his ears and reaches out, but the glass is empty. He has slept on his hand and it would not have held it anyway. The limp wrist falls back onto the bed and the hum persists, reassuring. It is the day of rest, and even the bells take their solace. He lies still, his right eye closed, maybe trying to mollify the throb on that side of his skull. The sheets are barely disturbed, evidence of nothing, but somehow he has managed to take his clothes off and leave them folded on the chair next to the door, the reusable together with those needing washing. The exhaust whoosh of a bus, followed by a car from below the window, mimic the purr of the fan as it tickles the fine hairs on his pale nethers. He thinks about moving, and waits. Eventually, when the thousand pricks on his hand have receded, when the drone has dimmed, when the reeds in his throat become dominant he rolls across the bed to the side closer to the door.
Vague memories of a shower return as he sloths into the bathroom and waits for the faucet to turn warm. The mirror is clear and even free of water stains thanks to a recent cleaning, but the sharp images return only fog. He does not see his face, does not register the bloat and bags. Some ingrained directive reminds him not lean on the porcelain, and he sits on the the toilet. He exhales, stands, slurps at the lukewarm water, splashes it on his face. He murmurs to no one, There will be nothing today, and I will be one with it. His fresh imprint on the bed beckons.