(To celebrate one year of writing these travel stories on Imperial Youth Review, this edition of “The Time” is a 2-for-1 fanservice post. I say “fanservice” because the first story is about a recent interaction I had with a new fan of my work, and the second is for a fan living in Belgium. Enjoy. -JWW)
THE TIME I HAD LUNCH WITH A FAN
It all started with that little old lady kissing my hand and dropping a quarter into my storytelling tip jar one chilly December day in the Year of our Earth Rat, 2008. Since that day, I’ve been slowly growing a modest fan base, comprised mostly of people met face-to-face out on the street. I take great pride in saying I’ve interacted in person with three quarters of the friends, business associates, acquaintances, and fans I interact with online.
I received an email last month from a new fan. Let’s call him Albert. He had read some entries I posted on a Facebook event taking place in Oahu and looked me up, leading to my blog which led to him buying my book. He finished it in one sitting and liked it so much he wrote me.
I make it a point to try and get to know everyone I interact with, even if it’s just in a little way. When Albert invited me out to lunch, I accepted. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. Had I just invited a crazed stalker with a new obsession into my life? I had a pseudo-stalkery type whom I spoke with a few times online a couple years back (If you’re reading this, hi dude!), but the most interesting things that ever came out of it was him wanting to name the protagonist of his crime novel after me and wanting me to send him pictures of my feces.
Albert volunteers once a week at a cat sanctuary in Kailua, and we agreed to meet in the cafe of the Whole Foods in the town center. I showed up a little early and sat at a table. I tried reading while I waited, but I was too curious to pay attention to the words. I was imagining this guy. Was I setting my expectations too high? What if he really was a creep or, worse still, what if he was boring? At least I was getting a meal out of it.
I didn’t know what he looked like, but he was supposed to be easy to spot. He told me he’d be “the only old guy walking in the front door carrying a copy of your book”. He had mentioned in an e-mail being in Paris during the 1960’s student riots there, so I was instinctively looking for an elderly man, something like the last images of my grandfather I retained, right before his passing.
Albert walked up and I thought the guy looked about 20 years younger than he was claiming. I smiled inside. It was because he’s a traveler, young at heart, which had kept him looking full of life. Every person over 50 I’ve ever met that did more than their fair share of wandering across the globe has the spark of youthfulness.
I only wish I could repeat to you verbatim our conversation. The man was an exquisite mind. What made it all the more flattering was that he saw in me a potential he likened to many of his favorite writers. Gush, gush, gush…
We spoke at length on writing, traveling, and life in general. He told me of a friend struggling with drug addiction. I related my own usage and occasional grapples with them. An upcoming trip planned to Bhutan, a notoriously difficult country to gain entrance into, had Albert excited. It got me excited for him and my own plans for future traveling.
He came bearing gifts, books, the most surprising of which was his first edition copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. “I don’t have anyone to pass this on to,” he told me. I was flabbergasted. I accepted with gratitude, and made a promise to myself that I would treasure the book for as long as he had.
After lunch, he drove me back to where I was staying and asked me if he could help me out financially. My stubbornness wouldn’t let me take his money, he had given me enough already.
He snapped a picture of me, gave me a hug, and we parted ways. It was over too soon for my liking, I felt like I had just met a kindred spirit. But I was glad I got to hang out with Albert, even if just for an afternoon. I hadn’t just made a fan, I’d made a friend.
THE TIME BRUSSELS WAS QUITE HOSPITABLE TO ME
(Dedicated to Raf for his generosity.)
For those of you obsessed with chronological orderliness, this took place after The Time We Reflected on Germany, but before The Time Paris Showed Me Some Magic.
When I got off the train in Brussels Central Station, I was struck with uncertainty. I had anywhere I wanted to go, but nowhere to go for certain. I had come to Europe under the pretense of no pretenses. To let whim and immediacy take precedence over motive and plan.
So I moved in a direction not toward anything, but away from the train station, and wound up in the Jardin du Mont des Arts/Kunstberg. It was a small, rectangular city park with neatly maintained, hedge row bordered gardens laid out in pleasing geometric designs. I stood on a elevated platform at one end and watched the sky turn colors behind a backdrop of Old World buildings and a bronze statue of King Albert I atop a horse that marked the other end.
Night came, but I wasn’t ready to go stealth camp hunting just yet. I moved around some more until I came to a quiet corner in a pedestrian only section of the older city center. It was lit by a single lamp, giving it a noirish feel. Most of the tourists had retreated to the safety of their hotels and hostels. I was dealing with the night crowd, known to me mainly through their love of socializing, alcohol, and heckling street storytellers.
Noah sat down on the sidewalk and listened to me finish the short story I was reading. I glanced up at him between paragraphs and saw him smiling. When I finished, he stood up and shook my hand, introducing himself as a newspaper writer. He asked me if he could buy me a beer.
Over a couple Duvals, Noah told me he was Flemish, a smaller third culture he claimed was underrepresented in the mostly Dutch/French government. He ran a political paper and was working to improve his English writing skills. He asked for my opinion on an article back at his apartment, which he invited me to crash at.
After the drink we drove to his place, a cramped single room on the north side of town. He said the area he lived in had a higher crime rate due to an influx of immigrants. I laughed. Simple problems seem to require simple solutions no matter where you go.
Over a hash cigarette I read his article, proclaiming the overthrowing of democracy in favor of socialism. I had read it before, in other forms, but I wasn’t here to critique his content. His English was, as I had found to be the case with many European college-aged people, very capable. Better than the average American’s grasp. I commended him on his wordplay, shared some more of my own words with him, and he took me out for a late night doner kebab.
I had never had doner before, known as shawarma in Turkey where it originated. In it’s basic form, it is lamb wrapped in flatbread, and it is delicious. I would come to learn that doner was available pretty much anywhere in Europe. It was the equivalent of a hot dog in NYC, and just as cheap to purchase.
The next morning he had work. His day job was at the gift shop of the Magritte Museum. Rene Magritte is one of Belgium’s most famous painters, and as such they had opened his own museum a year earlier to celebrate his large body of work. Noah gave me free entrance and I spent the day being inspired by his life and surreal artwork.
Afternoon approached and I had a decision to make. Stay in Brussels another night or move on? The itch flared up and France started calling my name. I thanked Noah for the room and board, and the company, we exchanged e-mails, and I walked out of the city.
I left content that I couldn’t have done it any better or worse, for I had absorbed it all with little expectation. I had been a stranger when I arrived, but the city accepted me for whatever reasons. I like Brussels and I think Brussels likes me.
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J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.