Itchy Feet

Reesa's Europe Trip

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Let the Games Begin

Koz never showed up.

I waited at Heathrow for an hour.

First the stoned-faced customs inspector interrogates me on why I was in England alone, with no hotel room, no idea where I am staying, and just a backpack, all the while sneering at my overalls and disheveled appearance, and then I herd towards the merry-go-round baggage claim, down the ventilation-deprived corridor, around the assembly line of passengers waiting for their overpriced luggage, and cling to the stale yellow walls aiming for the glass exit door.

On the way, I dodge an African family clicking orders at each other, an Indian mother snapping a photo of her “miniature-self” sleeping on the slippery floor, behind a neon-clad woman with a loud New England accent snarling “Bob, where’s my gray Gucci,” slaloming through a herd of dark-skinned men wearing loincloths, limboing beneath a gray haired Japanese man and his surfboard; breaking a Nordic couples embrace and nearly tripping over a pigtailed blond kid tugging a Barbie suitcase. A guide with a red hat and a tall sign written in a foreign scrawl leads a flock of sari-clad women, all of them circling around me, looking in every direction besides forward, somehow making it absolutely mathematically sure that each and every one of them would bounce off me and knock me further from my goal of reaching the door.

Paralyzed by the pungent smell of day-old body odor and blinded by the iridescent rainbow of colors, I calculate the distance between me and the outside world, hold my breath, and jump headfirst into the chill of London. I scan the turn-around for Koz. Instead noticing scattered clouds of people, lightening bolts of baggage, and cumulous clouds of BMW’s.

I drop the 50-pound suitcase off my back and stretch my exhausted body in London, England! The home of Robin Hood, the Beatles, Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Mary Poppins, the grandfathers of the United States, the Mamas and the Papas of the good ole red, white and blue. I scan the turn around for Koz, who is sure to be wearing something eye-catching. In high school, we were quite a pair: him in his retro suits and Dukes of Hazzard T-shirts; me in overalls and combat boots—both with crazy curls, giant eyes, and massive smiles. Everyone called us the quintessential fag and fag-hag. If only they had known that Koz wasn’t out yet.

I dial the Oxford Street Youth Hostel’s number. “—Oxford,” a lazy voice says over the wire.

“Hi, um, I am looking for my friend Koz Chase…he was…”

“Is this Ree-sa?” Her vocal cords sound like they are pinched by a clothespin. “I think there’s a note for you,” I hear a slight rustling of papers, a glass breaking, and a loud whopping, “aw, Fuckin ‘ell! Oh ‘ere it tis…Reesa, come to the hostel, had a late night, we’re in room 219, wake us up. Koz.

He didn’t forget about me. “Ok, how do I get there?”

“Well you can’t walk now, can you? Take a taxi luv.” And with that she clicks the phone into the receiver, leaving me with an unfamiliar dial tone.

My cockney-accented driver sneers as I open the door, “What you doing mate?” I stare back at the longhaired driver, who is getting in the passenger seat, and tell him that I am getting in his car. “What…you want to drive? Bloody yanks got to think they do things the right way, in England we drive on the left side of the road, which means you sit on the left, isn’t it?” He giggles like a machine gun, and then adds, “You aren’t in America anymore, sweetheart.” And as I climb into the backseat and we round out of Heathrow, I realize that I’m not.

Houses stand like matchsticks, tall and thin, lighting up as we zoom by. Front yards, not big enough to fit slip and slides or basketball hoops are empty. The grayness below the clouds, pushed closer by the sunshine above, makes the driver’s face tighten. He looks like a stoned Snoopy. His taxi seems like it should have a black light and Doors posters hanging from the windows. The interior is covered with candy wrappers and chips. I’m careful to stay on the left side of the backseat, the opposite side of the driver, because it seems like he eats and then throws the garbage behind him. There are crumbs, cereal flakes, teabags, fortune cookies, flyers for parties, ashes, and a pair of very used boxers littering the backseat. He twists a thick finger on the radio, letting the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine whisk through speakers that only work in the front seat.

“You should have been ‘ere two nights ago,” the driver says over the music, turning onto the freeway. “It was sunny as ‘ell and I went on a mad bender. Took loads of charlie, some pills, a few joints, and quite a few pints.”

“What’s ‘charlie’?” I ask, sitting Indian style on the ripped vinyl seat, he obviously wants to chat.

“Coke, mate.” He laughs, “Stopped the acid six months ago when old-Bill, that’s the coppers, found me in my taxi. My feet was where my ass should be, and my ass was where my feet should be, and I was barking, like a dog. I can’t drop no more. When you walk down the street and bark at people for no good reason, its time to slow down, at least for a little while,” he smiles. “—So last night,” he continues, as he swerves in and out of traffic like a racecar driver. “All I wanted was a burger. I was starving. So we went to McDonalds. This janitor was clearing up. I yelled through the glass for him to throw me a burger. Any burger, hot, cold, raw, I didn’t give a fuck. I would have eaten anything, save the warthog that wanted me population paste last night, whoo-hoo!”

This guy reminds me of the deluge of longhairs that used to work on my parents’ farm. The ones that loved to tell stories. They’d spend hours with Ian and me, giving us jumbo Mickey Mouse stuffed animals, painted pictures of mushrooms, chocolate chip cookies that made me bounce off the walls, and someone even brought me a copy of Clockwork Orange—I was eight. Strumming on guitars, making up songs, saying that my parents were lucky, because they had the best of both worlds. Although at that time, I didn’t know what other world my parents had the best of.

“—Oh, yeah,” my driver continues as if he forgot he was talking. “I picked up a garbage can and started whacking the shit out of the window. Until it shattered all over the place.” He shows a large Band-Aid covering his wrist as the taxi almost hits a Mac truck, “me fucking hand went flyyyying through the window, but I didn’t feel a fucking thing.”

My hand screams in pain from holding the “oh shit” handle so tight. Driving on the other side of the road is going to give me a heart attack. Especially as we get off the freeway and circle into the threaded streets, where on each side of the sidewalk, strategically painted on the ground, are directions to Look Left or Look Right.

“—I grabbed me burger from the back and ran. The coppers found me down the street bloody screaming, ‘I didn’t do it, I swear,’ but the janitor was with them and I had to spend the night in the nick.”

“In jail?” I question.

“Happens almost every weekend—drunk and disorderly, fighting, drunk driving…just kidding luv. The coppers know me and send me to my cell to sleep it off. I’m barred from McDonalds now. I’m barred from most places, now that I think about it. Suppose that’s why I drive this shit car. Can’t leave the country, can’t get a real job, can’t do fuckin’ much, but get a laugh from the people I pick up.” He smiles proudly. “But I’m off suspension from me favorite pub in two months.” He rubs his hands together like he’s warming his fingers over a fire, then grabs onto the steering wheel quickly as we swerve onto the other side of the street. “Those birds better get ready for my glossy bob.”

“Glossy bob?” I ask.

“Free for a bob, knob, town hall, balls,” he explains, still babbling. The thing about druggies is that they don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. It is the highest level of self-absorption on the planet, so when you’re in a conversation with them and tune them out, they really have no clue.

“—Ooh, that’s the center of London.” He is saying, “and that was the Tower of London back there. What a bore. Why’d you come to this fucking town anyways? If I could go somewhere…the fuckin’ coppers made me do a sentence that I got to stay in this fucking city, me whole life. You’d think they want to get rid of me arse. Let me go cause some havoc in Laos or someplace where they need some excitement mate. But no, I got fucking stuck ‘ere, talking to young American girls and wishing I could fuck off with them. You best take advantage of your position mate. You one lucky yank.” Lucky, ha! My parents are in jail for helping guys like him lose more of his brain cells. “—You going at it alone?” The driver chainsaws through my thoughts.

“No, actually, I’m going with these two guys from…”

“I hope they aren’t mincers,” he laughs.

“What’s a…mincer?”

“A butt-packer, a fag, a fairy, a butt-baggy-beefy, uphill gardener, shit-stabber, shirt-lifter, a putt-putt golfer, a puff…”

“As a matter of fact…” I begin, but then think the better of it. He doesn’t seem to like the whole rainbow thing. And suddenly overcome by that up-all-night-blurry-overexcited-clearly-confused-need sleep feeling, I feel my eyes begin to close. I don’t have the heart to tell the driver that I can’t get my eyes to focus on any of the sights he dutifully points out. So I oooh and aaah everything he says, until he conveniently delivers me to the hostel and stops talking.


IanNeskala: That taxi driver does sound like all the weirdos who used to come over—remember that dude John who dad had to kick out that night because he was on some rampage about dogs and fleas and started tearing all the pillow cases off, telling mom to wash everything? Glad you got out of his cab. Talked to mom today. She told me to tell you to have a safe trip.

Jonahhash69: What a nutcase! Love him.


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Everyone Loves Mona

Airplane seats suck. Aside from making your body feel like it’s in a paused game of freeze tag, there’s just no relief in sitting on top of a life preserver, praying not to be slam-dunked into the Atlantic. Traveling 6000 miles, climbing over the Rocky Mountains, skipping the layover in Chicago, zipping over the New York skyline, zooming past where the Titanic sank, and finally, hopefully, touching down in London, happens to be just a little bit unsettling without the constant discomfort of too small seats, a kid crying behind me, and a fat old dude farting the national anthem in the seat in front of me. Throw in the laughing eyes of the flight attendant when I ask for a shot of vodka. She looks me down and up. Her eyes inhale the faded-blue overalls that I tied together with luggage tags this morning when the buckles broke. Stopping at the convenient braids that engage my blond curls and rocks, “Do you have ID?”

“It’s in my carry-on,” I lie, indicating the overhead compartment.

She flashes me a lipstick-smile, jellied with seasoned-wisdom, all at once reminding me who’s boss, then moves her coveted attention to the grandma next to me who let me have the window seat. The old woman orders two 7&7’s, instructing the flight attendant to use one glass for ice, one for the seven, and leave one empty. When the bartender-on-wheels moves her cart onto the next victim, my raisin-faced neighbor hands me one of the drinks.

“Whiskey’s what you need for a flight. A couple of these babies and you’re happier than a pig in a waste dump,” she croaks. Her grayed head barely reaches my shoulder; her stomach almost touches her tray table.

“Thank you,” I say. “I thought I’d be able to drink on an international flight.”

“Budget cuts. Don’t worry honey, that’s why I’m here.” Shaking her wild curls she continues, “I don’t understand why a girl can’t drink. When I was your age…how old are you honey, 19, 20?”

“18, well, 17.”

“Same difference,” she croaks, offering a slight tinge of an East coast accent. “At 14, I was slinging Manishewitz with my pop.” She picks up her glass, cradling it with both hands as if it was a past lover, and calls, “L’chaim.” Downing the entire glass, she presses her pruned finger on the call-button, waves her hands in the air, and snorts, “Name’s Mona.” I take a sip and cough. Through laughter, she says, “My girlfriend Edith and I went to get tattoos the other week. You want to see it?” Her eyes sparkle with childlike invitation. Without waiting for my reply, she pulls her elastic ballpoint blue pants down over the three-inflated rolls on her stomach, to show me the “mouse.” She pushes her bifocals higher on her nose and squints at her midsection, looking perplexed at the unpleasant view of her mounds. “It must be hiding on the other side.” She mutters, replacing the top of her pants and revealing the right side of her mountainous terrain dotted with spots and bruises, this time pulling her granny pants low enough to give me a full view of her undercrackers.

“Damn, my pussy must have ate it,” she says.

Over our next three rounds, served by the adorable and more importantly, non-carding Roger, Mona reveals the recent escapades at the Old Cedars nursing home in Santa Barbara. She is especially excited to tell me about her friend who started a female stripper class on Tuesday nights. It fits perfectly between Hatha Yoga and Dance Dance Revolution competitions. Adding that the pole-dancing class is nothing like the mud-wrestling competition she won at the Tropicana in Hollywood years and years ago. She says that she debated taking this trip to England to visit her sister and brother-in-law (“who has cancer…but don’t tell anyone”) because she didn’t want to miss her classes. But she had to come, saying, “A lady knows not what becomes of her, as time goes on truckin’—so she takes the trip when it’s presented, or she may never live long enough to take it.” With that, she sips her fourth 7&7, and starts to snore.

She’s right. All I know is that I had to get on this plane today, and that I want more out of this life than I am supposed to want. I could care less about a real job, kids, a degree, or a mortgage. I want to live before I have more wrinkles than Mona. A lot of life occurs between 18 and Medicare and I don’t want to spend all that time living out society’s generic plan for me. I’ve watched that glacier age that settles over the people who do what society expects them to do. They’re frozen in the same latitude and longitude for their whole life, watching the world go by, while they sit on their couch facebooking pictures of their dinners. But I can’t do that. When I was seven, I remember walking as far as my feet could carry me to see if there was anything different down the road. When we moved to California, I was the first to pack—a month early—living out of my little Barbie suitcase already. When I got older, my first boyfriend and I would decorate my world map with a happy face in a new country every time we had sex. After two months I had to get a new map. And a new boyfriend.

I guess my parents taught me well. When they were young, they tried to be explorers, abandoning the Midwest, reaching as far west as California, until their car ran out of gas in the San Fernando Valley. They spent eight years talking about the trips they’d like to take. They always made sure that I had the best maps and globes in the house, introducing me to people from all over the world, and making me watch foreign films until I cried for a movie that I didn’t have to read.

Next to me on the plane, Mona lets out a huff, picks up her head, sucks down the remnants of her drink and passes out again. I gaze around the tube at the rest of the weary travelers most with their headsets on, immersed in the business of escaping. The kid behind me kicks my seat and whines that he’s bored. Suddenly I wished my best friend Jonah were next to me, offering something witty to say about the loud-talker a few seats up front. During the last few months, I spent most of my time in Jonah’s pocket-sized studio on Venice Beach, a block from the boardwalk. I tried taking walks along the gray-blue ocean, igniting coffee conversation with the razor riders, skateboarders, actors, artists, and dog-walkers that also felt pulled by the call of the Pacific. But I found that every person I met was so wrapped up in being “somebody” that they didn’t have time to just be human. All they cared about was looking perfect when they went out, just in case that one casting director happened to be partying at the same dark club.

Jonah was my savior. I wonder if he’ll really show up in Europe like he dared last night after a few too many lemon drops. Koz will freak.

The flight attendant delivers a piece of bland chicken, which I dutifully ignore, and after suffering through some shoot’em-up-bang-bang-movie with a geriatric action star, Mona rises from the dead. I have to admit I sort of missed her. With the same vigor, she downs her final 7&7, orders us Bloody Marys, and immediately returns to telling stories. “One time, I remember, Hawaii. We went hiking. I got a new bikini. Learned to hula. Spent a week getting massages from young hunks in g-strings. I won a wet T-shirt competition. All the Spring Break babies started this-a wet T-shirt contest. I hop on the stage because I’m hot, and they shower me with some ice-cold water.” She laughs and takes a sip of her drink. “This song comes on, you know the one with the words, uh, pop that…w-what’s a coochie honey?”

“It’s what ate your mouse.”

“Oh, dear,” she pauses then smiles widely.

“So then what happened?”

“I start shaking my tuchass. All those young-un’s chanting take it off, take it off. Like a football—well not exactly a football game, but…so slowly, like a girlie in those late-night Showtime shows, did I tell you I used to work at a cabaret? Well it doesn’t matter, where was I? Oh, yeah, I took off my shirt, and my golf-shorts too. All those kiddies staring at me, I felt 21 again. Dancing around that wooden stage, wearing my panties. Swinging my brassiere, like I was a cowgirl. All of a sudden I look up and remembered: I wasn’t 21 anymore. Honey, all I can tell ya, is life passes so quick, you better live it up before it outlives you…”

The captain interrupts her with his calm voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now beginning our descent into London’s Heathrow airport. The weather is a chilly 62 degrees, cloudy with a bit of rain. I hope you had a pleasant flight. Sit back and relax and we’ll be on the ground shortly.”

“It’s about time! I’m dying for a cigarette here!” Mona yells. She looks over at me, saying, “What’s that?” I look where her finger is pointing and see a small ladybug resting just under my shoulder. “That’s good luck honey. My bubbie used to say—ladybugs bring ya safety and great revelations. Not to mention a good rump in the sack.” She winks, “I can’t wait to get back home. I’m on shiksas already, I think I’m going to try surfing.” The woman in the seat in front of us sneezes loudly and Mona calls, “Bless you before the devil gets ya,” just as we enter a gray bumpy cloth of sky and bounce downward. I search for any sight of permanence in the blur and as the layers shed, England in all of its dreariness appears before me.

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IanNeskala: Mona!!!

Joanhhash69: Love that old hag!


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I suppose I should tell you how it all happened

It started in the slightly innocent way that young people make decisions—an impulsive kick in the ass.

I went downstairs for breakfast one morning to find two police officers in my kitchen. After the flutter of excitement ceased, I realized they barely glanced at me or my bed-headed brother Ian; instead the two youngish cops, in their freshly pressed black uniforms glared at my parents.

On the table between them was a box. Below the packaging were Starbucks coffee tins, the kind my parents drank. One was open. Beneath a thin layer of Arabica beans sat a bulging bag of weed.

Dank buds. My brother later informed me. Duh Purple he called it, though the official name on the package was blown by elves.

Mom stammered something about someone else using their address, how she heard that someone had been using the next-door neighbor’s garage to buy and sell stolen furniture and car parts. My father stared at the box. His mouth hung open. Ian later said that he looked like he couldn’t believe that much weed was going to the LAPD. Mom used excuse after excuse, trying to sway the cops’ stern faces into smiles. She even left her apron on and invited them to drink a coffee—a bad choice Ian and I later agreed as she pulled out the same type of coffee tin to make the offering.

Within the hour, my parents were in the back of a cop car. Mom begged the officers not to interrogate them in front of her children and so by the time we were supposed to leave for school, my parents were gone. The last thing mom said was, Eat breakfast before school. Dad mumbled, See you later tonight.

They still aren’t out of jail.

It turned out that mom and dad were some of the biggest drug dealers to the Midwest.

Their weed supplied pot smokers from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi. Ensuring slews of kids our age had that potent California homegrown, while also emphatically grounding Ian whenever he came home stoned.

Another notable irony is that mom and dad weren’t actually partiers. Usually by ten, they were in bed watching the gore-fest called the news. This and mom’s constant American flag apron were two reasons why their little “business” came as a surprise to our community and most of all to me. Ian informed me somewhere in the first week after their arrest—when I still visited them and they proudly introduced me to anyone who walked by—that he always stole from their stash because it was better than the Mexican dirt weed the guys at school peddled.

So it seemed I was the last in the family to know. Even Grammy wasn’t shocked. Though she did swear her son’s innocence and curse my mother for swaying him into a life of crime. It all came out in the trial. A much publicized excavation of my parents’ past. How my dad traveled to Europe to “find himself” and ended up meeting my mother, a PhD candidate, researching how gypsies were the best environmentalists in the world—a theory she often expounded, then changed once there was a rise of homeless people roaming the streets of America. Knocked up, they returned to dad’s hometown of Athens, Ohio and lived there until they got the bright idea to move to Southern California.

Supposedly they thought they were too progressive for Midwest life, though dad voted Republican and swore Reagan was the best thing to happen to politics since well, Reagan. Mom got a job teaching anthropology at a community college, trading in the big bucks for health insurance and the chance to convert young people to her theories on environmentalism and human consumption. Dad mamboed through a slew of sales jobs before opening a preschool in Alhambra. It would be redundant to say that we weren’t on the Forbes 100 list. But the prosecutor made them seem like middle-class opportunists pursuing the American Dream by diminishing the brain cells of young people. Their attorney, an old college friend of mom’s, made a strong case. It turned out my parents said they did it for us—which added to the media frenzy–for our college funds. To care for us if something happened to them. They just didn’t know we would need the money so soon.

I just couldn’t deal with mom and dad in orange jumpsuits, or the parents of mom’s students and dad’s preschoolers scowling at them. Our neighbors sitting in the back of the courthouse with arms folded over their chests. It seemed my parents took the blame for all the community’s wrongs. The thing that made me stop going to the trial was how proudly they took it. How they held hands under the wooden table. How they smiled when people they liked entered the room. How mom almost flirted with the judge, laughing at his occasional joke and even once offering him an elderberry remedy she learned from the gypsies for that cough of his.

When I heard they were sentenced to be in prison long enough for my ovaries to be considered too old to do their job, when it seemed that the only place for my brother and I to live was in Grammy’s trailer park, with the cats, the plastic trinkets decorated gravel covered lawns, and the endless trail of geriatric cheek pinchers, I packed my bags and bought a one-way ticket to London. A city that held no particular allure for me, save the facts that they speak English, I could afford the ticket after siphoning off a chunk of my bat mitzvah money I got access to the day I turned 18. Plus I had a friend from high school who would be there.

I invited Ian to come too, fearing that being stuck in the suburbs of the suburbs would send him into a depressive spiral of drugs, video games and bad TV, but he still had another year of high school, and said, Why the fuck do I want to go there? A sentiment that was common with my peers, slackers and tech-addicts, who would rather watch the world through Instagram than actually do anything.

So in a breeze of inspiration, I figured why the hell not? I mean, it is not like there was any reason to stay in LA, where my life was like Spam: it could be good, if it were something else. My tenure as a soul-less LA peon gave me plenty of time to decide that I needed some time off from school. I had been in school since I was three. That’s two locusts seasons, the average lifespan of a dog, a trio of presidents. 85% of my life—that’s a light-year in my book.

So that’s the short version of how I ended up on a 747 with a giant blue backpack, a Henry Miller book, and a pair of raggedy overalls.

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Travel101: go get em!

IanNeskala: I can’t believe you left me here! And hey, what’s wrong with bad TV, video games and bags of weed?

Jonahhash69: I am SO coming.