Casually leaning against the bus stop’s glass wall, a gleaming, almost blindening perfume advert ornamented by the three-foot tall face of Cate Blanchett, he was holding the book in such a way for every passer-by to see his black nails. Why would he paint them in the first place if no one was to behold their satanist-associations-inducing impression? If anybody asked him, he would say he didn’t care, that he could do what he wanted to, and that he paid no attention to how others perceived him; hence the unconventional matte colour of his fingernails. It was all part of the spectacle though. Both the nails and the don’t-care attitude were to create an image in the eye of the beholder – the persona of Brendon Cry. Intrinsically however, he occasionally wished somebody would ask him about the black nails, acknowledge their edgy looks, somehow misfit for such a fine young fellow. Later on, when he did receive the attention he craved for, he would go on to talk about the multi-layeredness of this action.
Scratching his stubbled chin, feeling the unevenness of his skin, he explained, “Well, there’s a few reasons why…” The way he spoke was a performance in itself. Sometimes a pause fell right into the middle of a sentence, or a word, as his eyeballs were maniacally scanning the eyes piercing his face, only to lock his glare on a silver tablespoon laying beside him, contemplating its shape and texture while continuing his speech. “First of all, I don’t care.” A steady foundation was established. He didn’t care, he had to make it the first reason. His best he did to say the simple phrase in the most careless way possible, so as not to show how much he valued their image of him not caring. “Secondly, I wanted to piss off a few people.” A smile crawled onto his lips as he said those words. Oh, how brave of you, Brendon! He wasn’t scared of the Adidas-clad blokes roaming the darkened alleys at two in the morning. If their minds were indeed so closed-off and – one could take the risk to say – retarded not to let the man go his own way because of black-painted nails, then let them kick his ass, break his nose, punch his teeth out. What a statement would that be; a human sacrifice, and a living one! Maybe he would even get some scars after that middle-of-the-night beating, that would be awesome.
Once his persona was right in its seat, taking the adequate place in his interlocutors’ heads, he proceeded to an actual manifesto; one he wouldn’t have to get his eyebrow cut. “Also, it’s about showing that such trifles are nothing but gender-dependent social constructs. Why can women paint their nails and men cannot? Is it biologically determined, somehow, that if you have a dick and not a cunt your nails are biologically unable to be painted black? Or any other colour? You wouldn’t ask your mum or sister or girlfriend why she painted her nails, would you?” There it was, a seed of uncertainty sown in the fertile fields of their minds. Well, they never thought about it this way. Huh, if you do think about it… “Besides,” he would add, a cherry on top, another brush stroke to that self-portrait he was painting, “I can do whatever the hell I want.” Leaning back in his chair, no more questions asked and no more taken, he could go on smoking his cigarette and sipping his drink, or whatever self-destructive activity he was engaged in at the moment. A glorious victory on his side, no doubt about that.
He didn’t care an iota about these people. Some of them he had just met, others were his old friends, whom he would see once every two years to pretend that they both wanted to stay in touch for longer than an evening; still others were girls, whom he so much wanted to impress. Looking at their pretty faces, he could end up with any one of them; whichever was willing to. Only the night would tell. Yet so many nights there were in a week, still more in a month, let alone a whole year of such soliloquies, and he soon grew weary of re-telling the same story over and over again. One day he would write about it, for sure, so that he wouldn’t have to talk anymore. An article for one of the online magazines he wrote for, maybe a poem if he felt like it. Or better, somebody would write about it at length, when writing about him, in one of the best-selling biographies ever written, with his face on the cover of mainstream publications. But nobody would write about him now, it will be years before he gets famous – the solution came right when he needed it most. A subtle touch of mystery, an intriguing teaspoonful of enigma, and a fair share of indifference: “Open to interpretation,” he would only state instead of that elaborate monologue, achieving the very same goal, or maybe even pushing his game to a whole new level.
The book he was holding in his hand was part of the spectacle too. A physical book was a declaration in itself. How much he despised the things other people would get excited about, those brutes. He hated video games, regardless of how many senses they stimulated and how much they tweaked responsiveness. Television, Coca-Cola, Andy Warhol, football, Eurovision, vaping – he loathed them with every cell of his body, with every atom of these cells even. Some books were despicable too. The wackiness of The Lord of the Rings made his brain itch just as much as the thought of it being a worldwide bestseller. Set books could go to hell as well. Some of them might have been good literature, but the sole fact that they were set books, having been imposed by an external entity, told what and when to read, that made him furious to the bone, red-hot on the face. Let alone the thirty-something-tome romance series you could buy in a grocery store, with the half-naked bodies on their covers, having so little to offer that they had to use sex to sell, the stories shallow and creating false suspension, always with an open-ending in case the ugly fat cigar-smoking publisher decided that he needed more of this junk to fill his pockets and grow his hairy belly even bigger. Disgusting. Brendon Cry was exceptionally picky about the written matter he chose. He knew there were only so many books he could read within his lifetime, so he better choose wisely. Every time he came across a book he found interesting in some way or another, he would foremost zealously examine the author’s career to assess what kind of an impression reading that particular writer would make on others. If it was the most popular book of theirs, a best-seller, it was not fit for purpose. Either a debut novel or some lesser-known early writing could make do. Lastly came the cover: some books had their Academy-awarded motion-picture adaptations already shot and successful at the box office. The last thing he wanted to experience was to, with his mind’s eye, see the face of the impeccable Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Gatsby or the half-bald Johnny Depp instead of Raoul Duke every time he went through the pages of the book. Attracting people who “saw the film last week, but haven’t read the book yet” was equally detestable. He knew they would never read that book, ever. A cover had to have its character, its flavour and feeling – preferably an artwork rather than a picture. The paper’s quality and texture was another criterion, though a less significant one: old, used books took precedence over new copies; rough cover paper felt better under his fingertips than the smooth, plastic-jacketed one; and without a second of hesitation, paperbacks aged better than hardcovers, all the wrinkles and folds adding to the overall impact of the book.
He tapped his fingers on the baby-blue front of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur when the bus came. Putting it into his jacket’s pocket he didn’t get, but jumped on the bus with the full momentum of his sixty-six-kilograme body, grabbed the yellow handrail inside, and, making a twist full of finesse mid-air, smoothly positioned himself on the empty seat, next to the window, leaning against the glass surface rather than sitting up straight. He corrected the sunglasses on his nose, even though it was already getting dark outside, and reached for the tobacco in the other pocket. From his trousers he produced a pack of rolling papers and a plastic bag with filters and he started rolling. Regular cigarette packs were too costly and they didn’t have that particular edge that rolled ones did. If he were to get himself a pack, or give up on rolling altogether, he would have to get himself one of those cigarette mouthpieces that Thompson used in the 60s, and they weren’t so easy to find these days. Rolling was fair enough though. Once the cigarette was done – still not perfect, for it would take time to master this craft, but looking fine – he put it in the corner of his mouth and played with it, moving its tip up and down with his lips, making circles, letting it protrude as he opened his mouth slightly; all of that while looking around at the passengers, seeking some eye contact to stare at them like a lunatic and make them feel uncomfortable. Nobody was willing to meet his eyes, as Brendon noticed, but he knew it was solely because they moved their heads away in terror when they saw him turn in their direction. Everybody must have been watching him, of that he was sure. After all, he went to great lengths to be the weirdest person on the bus, or anywhere. Seeing nobody brave enough to look at him openly, he tilted his head towards the window and looked through it.
The city flowed at its usual pace, regardless of the suit-wearing businessman late for a meeting and the grocery-store cashiers who had to search for their wallets within the depths of their cupboards earlier and would not make it on time. Yellow BVG buses cruised between the cars parked half on the pavements and half on the street. Above the ground level, S-Bahns speeded over the traffic-jammed roads. Below the earth, a metro web connected the city through and through, reaching as far as its suburban lakes, forests, and bungalow housing estates. Littered as it was, the citizens of Berlin didn’t tolerate the rubbish at kerbs and bums in parks as much as they didn’t care. It wasn’t their business, not their concern, hence no engagement on their side was necessary. That’s what Brendon loved about Berlin: not the liberal respect but the commonsensical indifference towards individual ugliness and other municipal anomalies.
The freedom to be weird for Brendon was both satisfactory and irritating. He innerly willed for somebody to notice his strangeness, point fingers at him, whisper as he passed them on the pavement. On his chest two necklaces: a pentagram and a cross, so that the energies of heaven and hell would even out and everybody would just leave him alone. But why wouldn’t anybody ask him about their meaning? Were they all so preoccupied with their dull lives not to find such a combination intriguing, or not brave enough to come to him upfront? The leather jacket on his shoulders was supposed to be equally as eyebrow-raising. With his permanent marker, he customized it to feel more of his own – nobody else in the whole world had the same jacket, though it was bought in a chain clothing store for cheap. The inscriptions abound: Kiss & Go on the right shoulder, This Way Up above his left elbow, a flower on the jacket’s lapel, repetitive patterns in random places, Fuck Off on the collar behind his neck, and a big arrow-pierced heart on his back with Narcissist written right above it. More than a warning it was an act of self-irony, Brendon fully aware of his confidence and the general perception of himself, yet another wink towards those who could grasp his rebellious art; there were not so many of them. When buying instant coffee in a grocery store the other day, a man patted him on the shoulder and asked what it meant.
“Narcissist,” explained Brendon, “is a person who is, well, narcissistic.”
The man asked, “Are you a narcissist?”
Brendon had to think about it. It wasn’t something to brag about, he knew it, and he tried to be careful with his words. “No, I don’t think so.”
“That’s good,” said the man. “My mother was, err, a narcissist. It was terrible.” A-ha! Here’s the trap. Brendon didn’t feel like continuing the chat, paid for the coffee, and wished him a good day. On the way home, he would whistle to himself and shove the can into the air, watching as it spinned and landed back on his open palm two seconds later.
His shoes too were unlike the mass-produced pair he had bought, not anymore. The light-creamy material looked like tattooed skin. Putting his ankle on the other leg’s knee, Brendon would do his best for somebody to notice the colourful drawings, a blue heart, and song lyrics inscribed in the permanent-marker ink on its gum midsoles. Judging by the widespread idea of aesthetics, they were ugly, with irregular patterns and whimsical inscriptions, often written in a state of intoxication. For him, that was their very beauty. So much he despised regular sneakers and sweatshop-produced items for masses, their stainlessness and cleanness, that making them his own – ugly – was a call against culture itself. Brendon’s outfit was completed by a pair of black jeans, which he hadn’t washed in three weeks, their colour slowly but surely fading away; three-day stubble, which wasn’t such a big deal, for he couldn’t grow full facial hair anyway, a Hemingway-style mustache being a dream never to be fulfilled; three rings on his fingers, two of them bought cheaply at one of those ‘crystal shops’ with precious stones, one inherited after his grandfather (presumably made out of gold, though he honestly doubted its realness); on top of that, messy cheek-long hair, wavy but not really curly, getting greasy and heavy but not so bad yet – it was to rain the next day anyway, so why bother?
Despite the well-thought-through appearance, it was all met with indifference, at least so it seemed. One could only suppose – though Brendon Cry was quite certain of it, in spite of lacking any evidence – that while the fellow-passengers on the bus would say nothing, their thoughts were going berserk. If not already texting their mothers about the flamboyant figure rolling a cigarette, dressed like a fool, behaving like a madman, they would surely talk about the strange occurrence during a party they were going to attend tonight or a family dinner. Or, even if they would not express their confusion verbally, their mind would be preoccupied with the image until they lay in bed with the lights out and, who knows, maybe Brendon would even pay them a visit in their dreams?
A friendly, deep female voice read out the name of the stop. He only remembered the first few letters of the one he was supposed to get out on, but this one seemed about right. He jumped from his seat and landed smoothly on his feet, balancing as the vehicle turned and changed pace; the regular, irregular flow of the city. Holding Big Sur in his hand, using his forefinger as a bookmark, he leaned against the yellow pole and waited for the bus to stop. On leaving it, he passed a pretty girl, her face roundish and her eyes big and shiny. He bit his bottom lip with his teeth, letting it out sensually, smiled to her, and left through the open door. Later he wondered if maybe it was the love of his life and he should have stayed on the bus, change his plans and give in to fate, see what destiny would bring about. Soon enough, he abandoned the thought to avoid regret. After all, there were so many others, so many girls and boys waiting just for him to smile, wink, be theirs for the night. He produced a gas lighter from the jeans’ back pockets, the tackiest he had found in his mum’s bedside drawer. When opened, the picture of two dolphins would glow in red, green, and blue, and the fire itself would change colours too. Above, a caption already half-worn-off, Tenerife. It must have been a souvenir from one of those family holidays he was too old now to recall.
Smoking, his chin was raised high, and he walked in a flowing manner, almost dancing down the pavements, dodging bicycles and passers-by in the eternal ritual of the city. Away in the distance, the Fernsehturm towered above the bustling ailes, ethnic restaurants open till late, and the districts with their own identities. From all sides, Brendon was surrounded by names of distinct geniuses: Citroen C4 Picasso, Einstein Café, but also Disney, Heine, McDonald, Dutschke, Ford, Benz, Morgan, von Siemens… names so great and known they could no longer be human names, they had become legends, meant so much more than a mere human existence stated on a piece of official paper. So was the name within his hands, Kerouac. A friend of Brendon’s once glanced at the foreword to The Dharma Bums and noticed how young that bloke had died. Forty-seven years of age, a whole life right before him, places to be seen, people to be met. Maybe, maybe not. He died, but he lived forever. How much Brendon would give to be granted such immortality, honourable mentions during English classes, his own Wikipedia page with fanboys reading his biography late at night, scrolling down their phones’ screens, wondering how much there still is they don’t know about him. Would his name one day be chosen for the revolutionary car model, or a literary establishment, a company, a street, a foundation?
It would take years after his death to witness such monumental honorarium for all the things he had done and would do for humanity. Now, he had to take the matter into his own hands. Tucking Big Sur under his armpit, still holding a rolled cigarette in his right hand, he took out his permanent marker and approached a too-shiny-and-clean display window. Brendon looked inside: leather boots, corduroy hats, colourful bottles of perfume – pink for women, blue for men, obviously – and the smiling, bald face of a billionaire, staring at him from the cover of his biography: the secrets of making money, becoming rich, accumulating wealth, and gaining financial stability. The same story over and over again, and him making even more money off the naive people who read his book and wanted to be just like him: rich and bald. No real books, no value, nothing with a sense of taste or authenticity; all rubbish. Removing the tip with his teeth, Brendon shook his left hand up and down three times to let the ink drain and, with condensed, big letters, he wrote: FUCK YOUR GODS. Underneath he left a tag, his personalized tag, a signature. Cry. It all took seconds, without double-checking if the Polizei were around, and within the next seconds he was gone, finishing the cigarette and throwing it carelessly on the ground. No need to stump on it, let some hobo gorge on its butt if he feels like it. That’s the best way Brendon could help them.
Passing an orange rubbish bin, he picked up an almost-empty beer bottle beneath it, finished the last sip, and put it back on its place. Another way to help the poor glass collectors. Before he hit the road, he kicked the metal bin with the sole of his shoe, making a ballet spin mid-air while doing so, flying in the air with the finesse of a subtle dancer, and kept going. An electric scooter also seemed to bother him. Giving it a delicate push, he put it right where its rightful place was – in the dirt. With one hand in his pocket, swaying slightly to the sides, instead of letting his eyes down, he pierced every passer-by with his, on the first glance, indifferent look. If the glare was reciprocated, his face was enlightened with a jolly smile, and he would wish them a wonderful evening. One such person was a scruffily-clad man, somewhere between his forties and sixties, his jacket worn out and his forehead hidden behind an aviator hat.
The tramp began cautiously, as they always do, checking the ground for beggary, “Excuse me?”
“Hey,” exclaimed Brendon, full of energy. “What’s up, my man?”
The bum’s face changed drastically, from the pitiable and dirty tramp into a kind grandpa. “Oh, I see you’re a smartass.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” answered Brendon, smiling. “How can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you, by any chance, would have any spare change?”
Brendon shook his head. “Unfortunately, my friend, I’m like a church mouse as well. But I can offer you a cigarette.”
“Oh yes, please,” he replied, watching Brendon roll a smoke with his swift fingers. “Or maybe two.”
“Well, I must be frank with you. I will be out the whole night and I’m going to need every bit of this tobacco. But one is alright.” He couldn’t grasp the neediness of the street people, always asking for more than they were offered, often being picky with what they were given. On the other hand though, could anyone blame them for it? Seeing the scruffy figure with the corner of his eye, Brendon wondered if the two of them were any different. Weren’t both of them openly protesting against all the things held close to heart by society, against decency and dignity? Inside, he knew they weren’t so dissimilar, Brendon only marginally more refined in his deeds. He worried that he would become like the tramp: nameless, worthless, forgotten – just another tramp, not even the tramp.
“Yeah, it’s alright,” admitted the bum with visible disappointment painted across his face. “By the way, what does that mean?” He was pointing at Brendon’s black fingernails, gently turning the rolling paper.
Brendon smiled to himself and said, “Open to interpretation.”
The answer wasn’t satisfactory. “Okay, but what should I make of it?”
Putting the cigarette closer to his mouth, he stuck his tongue out and let it across the paper’s full width. “You make of it whatever you make of it, man.” He handed the cigarette to the old man. “Here you go.”
“But what does it mean though?”
Getting irritated by his audacious nosiness, Brendon only said, “It means I can do whatever the hell I want. Have a great evening, goodbye.” Without waiting for a response, he turned around and walked to the beat in his head, almost at his destination. Though he felt he was close, he hardly knew where the place was exactly. It was the first time he was to be at that basement party. His old friend’s dad bought a space in an old building and wanted to transform the decrepit place into an art gallery of some sort. Along with the ground-floor space came a little basement, just as dilapidated. Brendon’s friend had spent months refurbishing the place, turning into a musical-studio-and-pub kind of private establishment. Tonight, he was to see the end results.
It was music that guided him, this time not that inside his head, but coming out of a vent. He squatted and put his ear next to the metal thingy and listened to the heavy drums playing. Yes, it was his destination. With the marker, he scribbled TUNE on the vent and knocked on the door.
The basement was already full of people. He came late intentionally; artists are never on time, after all. Shaking hands, exchanging hugs and kisses on the cheek, he would ask the people about their names or what they had been up to. Those he saw for the first time would introduce themselves: Robert, Alice, Rose, Daniel, Matty, Martha… They all sounded the same to him, and he knew he wouldn’t remember them anyway. By the end of the night however, he would make sure that each of them remembered his. Those old high-school friends, people whom he used to call classmates what seemed to be centuries ago, would tell him about their new lives: studying management, architecture, biology, photography, tourism, international relations and politics, aerospace and aeronautical engineering, robotics; working at their uncle’s construction site, delivering groceries on weekends, selling modern furniture at a family company… They too seemed meaningless to Brendon.
While he was taking a look around the basement, admiring the electric guitars hung on the walls, the great drumset in the corner, and the two large sofas, he spotted a small fridge near a shisha pipe and, hoping to grab something to drink, he rushed towards it. His way was interrupted by one of the old friends, with a girl by his side, intending to introduce the two.
He stretched his arm out, smiled as sincerely as it was possible, and said, “Brendon Cry, nice to meet you.”
As the two were shaking hands, the old friend looked perplexed. “Wait a minute,” he said, “wasn’t your surname-”
“It was,” exclaimed Brendon, cutting into his old friend’s sentence. “But it is no more,” he stated, winking at the girl. “Now excuse me, duty calls.”
Finally with the fridge at his fingertips, he opened it and reached for a brown bottle and opened it in an instant with that tacky Tenerife lighter. Half of the bottle was empty after his first gluttonous gulp. Exhaling heavily in a sign of long-awaited, soothing satisfaction, he sunk into one of the sofas.
“Hello angels, how are we feeling?”
The open question was followed by a stampede of voices and stories about ex-girlfriends, upcoming exams, and asshole bosses. Brendon was only half-listening, ceaselessly looking around and changing the topic (“What would you say at my funeral if I died tonight?”), making unexpected digressions or throwing around silly jokes. Soon enough, due to a lack of any prepossessing subjects, the conversation drifted to himself: how he would change all the time, how unpredictable he was, how exceptional. On the outside, he didn’t show what it meant for him, but inwardly he gorged on the attention he received from other people. Indeed, all of them were just people he knew, not real friends; tools he used to create his own image, uncertain who he was, but quite without doubt who he wanted to be. Asked about hobbies, he mentioned psychedelic drugs, alcohol, girls, reading (his black fingernails tapped on the cover of Big Sur in an insinuating gesture), and writing. Regretfully nobody was interested to hear about the articles he had been working on, all the stories that got rejected “but they were curious to hear from him in the future,” the sweet poems he had started writing, his sunglasses in the dark basement, or even the Kerouac exemplar on his lap. As always, everybody was on the edge of their seats to learn about the meaning of his fingernails, and he was already fed up with answering this inquiry.
“Open to interpretation,” he stated bluntly and took a sip of his beer, finishing the bottle. He gave a loud burp and asked, “Does anybody have weed?”
“What about the belt?” asked a girl, and her face was so nice that Brendon just couldn’t let her pass. She was pointing at a short belt wrapped around his calf, an inch below the knee. How could he forget about the belt, another inextricable bit of his identity.
Brendon leaned forward, creating a mist of mystery around him, catching every person’s undivided attention, and began, “You see… I do all these things – this belt, these fingernails and sunglasses – I do it to make you ask yourselves: why? Why does he do it? Why is he so weird? Then, you’ll all go home, watch television, listen to the radio, and just before you’ll fall asleep, you’ll still be asking yourselves: why? The meaning of all these things is they’re meaningless, in fact. I’m like a societal clown, the odd one, and I want to show you that there is another way.” His words were a loose paraphrase of Allen Ginsberg, nothing revolutionary in that counterculture statement. He wasn’t afraid of being caught though, it was highly unlikely for anybody sitting there to even know who Ginsberg was. Besides it all, Brendon was well aware that in the modern age none of his peers was watching telly or listening to the radio, they had other ways of mindlessly passing time, yet he treated them as a symbol for all that decency represented. “So does anybody have weed?”
“I think Jack and the guys have just gone out for a bong.”
Though Brendon had no idea who Jack was, it was fair dos. Much to his delight, people were quite generous with drugs, especially if you mentioned a name of a mutual friend or two. Jumping up the stairs, he was contemplating if he should paint his eyelids black too next time. He knew not how to do it, yet he would figure it out as he did with the once-unknown nail-painting etiquette.
As he suspected, Jack was more than happy to share a bong with him, and after three hits, Brendon was back on the sofa downstairs. From that moment on, time accelerated and the party was nothing more but a collection of random memories, lacking any chronology or context. Hitting the bong got him sleepy, and he couldn’t let himself fall asleep with so many pretty girls around; it wouldn’t be beneficial to his image. The intention was to get fucked up but not nod off by all means. Looking for something to wind him up, Chas came forward with a helping hand. Brendon wasn’t sure if it was one of his old friends or a new guy, but it was immaterial to him. Chas’ white lines wound him up just alright. It wasn’t cocaine or MDMA, Chas would explain, but speed, pure energy. Asked about the contents of the drug, Chas only laughed. Hours were going one after another, and from the fifteen people he counted at the beginning, he was suddenly left with three, listening to a spontaneous jam session, then playing his favourite songs from the loudspeaker, reading a selection of his poems out loud, and sipping beer in-between taking vodka shots. He felt immortal.
Apart from him was the host himself, hardly awake in the small hours; a pale redhead fat guy, younger than himself – his name was David, which he found out of place for some reason – with a belt-bag with xanax and other pills, always addressing his interlocutors as nigga, regardless of their skin colour; finally, a girl cuddling into Brendon’s chest, his hand resting on her thigh and stroking her buttocks through black pantyhose. The girl too was almost asleep, so David was the only listener during his middle-of-the-night, obscure poetry reading. The poems were about alcohol, parties, drugs, girls – everything Brendon’s life was about at the moment – and they were mostly rhymeless, for he was terrible with rhymes.
In a break between reading poems and a vodka shot, the girl beside Brendon turned to the other side, unconscious, and David asked, “Is she your girlfriend?”
Brendon looked at her and watched her for a second, as if trying to figure out who they were speaking about. Atop of this confusion, all the drugs and alcohol mixed in his bloodstream were messing with his perception. After a while, he said slowly, “No, I don’t even know her name. I think she has a boyfriend, actually.”
Fair enough, a shot, another straight line, and an idea struck Brendon like a lightning. He said, “Listen, you know there’s a strike tomorrow, right?” A nodding head meant yes. He continued, “I’ll be there, I’m writing a report about it for one of my editors, and after that she asked me to record an interview with one of the demonstrators. Can you help me do that? Around two in the afternoon, can you help me?”
“An interview,” said David. “What about?”
“I’m not sure. They used to protest against something, but now they seem to talk just about anything.”
“You don’t know where you’re going?”
“I’m going there to find out,” explained Brendon and, without a word, went out to take a piss. The cold night winds were stroking his belly. When he came back to the basement, he faced all three of them asleep, a pack of blue pills sticking out of David’s pocket. “Two in the afternoon, mate,” Brendon said, patting him on the shoulder. “See you tomorrow.” Before he headed home, he popped two of those blue pills, took another two for later, grabbed somebody’s fancy sunglasses from the tabletop (he had lost his own somewhere earlier that night, although he could tell neither when or where), and took out his permanent marker.
When he woke up the next morning in his bed, the memories of his way home were only visions, flashbacks, and long, long nothingness. Brendon could recall a porcelain duck figurine he stole off some homeless people, yet it was nowhere to be seen around him. He reasoned (to the extent that he could use his brain) that he must have dropped it somewhere. On the floor, black boxing gloves taken from a bench were laying, a fine souvenir they were. He touched his forehead and, when he looked at his fingers, he could see blood. The crimson colour brought back dim reminiscences of last night’s salvatory road home, of jumping on metal bars one could lock their bike to and falling head-on onto a wiry, metal fence. His head was still hurting from the impact. On his night table, Brendon could see that the sunglasses were intact – and for good, he needed those for later. Feeling his pockets, he found his phone – luckily. In the front camera, he examined his face: his right eyebrow was virtually cut in half, almost. Finally, a scar. That would add him some character, another thing people would ask him about – and he better know what to say beforehand. One message appeared in the notification centre; it was from the host himself:
“Brendon, if you scribble on the walls of my dad’s art gallery again, I’ll fuck you up.”
He smiled to himself, content. There it was – his statement, a legend being created. He could hardly remember anything from the previous night but some bits and pieces, yet there was no doubt that it was his doing; he was proud of himself.
It was high time he went to that protest, as high noon was approaching, his report followed by a one-on-one interview. God, did he love this job. Brendon couldn’t wait to become a professional, maybe then he would be able to rent his own open-plan apartment and make parties there. At the moment, it was hardly possible – he only rented a room with another guy, George, who was at least ten years older than him and not so fond of getting drunk three times a week.
Without much ado, having washed his face, Brendon grabbed his digital camera – a gift from his godfather for the sacrament of First Communion, which was basically just an occasion to give children a present or two and make them dress nicely, dating back some ten years, but still working – along with his phone, a three-euro portable mic, and the sunglasses he took from the basement, and he left the flat. George was at work at that time of the day, but they would probably see one another in the evening again during one of their chess games at the kitchen table.
Again, he was late, and again it was purposeful. Firstly, he was to cover a biking demonstration, which was a particularly challenging task, Brendon being on foot and clad in an oversized fur coat. Had that not been enough, it was about to rain any minute now, and he had to find a roof to hide underneath as soon as possible.
Following the bike demonstration, he passed by familiar places: the park where he had bought weed the other day, the house where he had got fucked up last week, and the roundabout where he had also bought weed. He was sure, however, that there were far more places he had been to that he could not recall than those that rang a bell. Keeping up the fast pace of walking, he was talking pictures, climbing up a wall to get a better view and distinguish himself from the grey swarm of other journalists. When passing a truck of one of the biggest news stations, he spit on the ground in a sign of personal protest; he couldn’t be bothered with the demonstration he was reporting on, he knew that his was a just-er cause. Seeing that the cyclists were getting farther and farther away, he turned into a narrow alley to cut the route short and found himself near the Brandenburger Tor, where the main event was to take place.
As he found out, it had already started, as it had already begun to drizzle. Brendon needed to be quick before the clouds would break loose and utterly ruin his fur coat – real rabbit, as he was told. Soon enough there was his goal on the horizon: the press tent. Around it stood two high platforms for photographers, those exclusive viewpoints, and he knew it would be even better inside the tent – hot coffee and snacks would be sweet, he hadn’t had breakfast yet. In the background he could hear the speeches given by activists on some pressing topics of society, but Brendon had a different objective now. He approached the yellow-vested girl at the tent’s entrance, actually intending to sneak in, but she stopped him.
“Press only,” she declared without showing emotions: no anger, no boredom, no passion. Her face was dull and unprepossessing.
Brendon smiled as if at a clear misunderstanding and explained, “But I am press.”
The girl scanned him from top to bottom, the hair getting curly from rain, impossible to say if it was so greasy or just wet; the women’s sunglasses on his nose and the still-bleeding wound on his eyebrow; the hilariously large fur coat on his shoulders. His digital camera was perhaps the only item that could liken him to a journalist. She seemed neither impressed nor surprised; indifferent. She said, “You need a press pass.”
He looked around himself, as if looking for something he had lost and asked, “Where can I get one?”
Another sluggish look followed, then a question: “Which publication are you with?”
Each second of hesitation would bring him away from success, so his answer was straightforward and confident. “Teen Vogue.” He wondered if he hadn’t said it too fast, perchance raising her suspicion, but after yet another unisex, feelless look, she gave him the press pass – a white, paper bracelet – and let him through.
Writing for Teen Vogue magazine wasn’t a dream come true. As a matter of fact, he despised most of its content, the gossip-girl articles about celebrities and their designer clothes, right after breaking news on their recent breakups and astounding hookups. It wasn’t anything to brag about, but it was the only publication that accepted his pitch and was willing to pay him for it afterwards. If a few moments of humiliation and completing a rather easy task would grant him access to that journalistic underworld – and free coffee – then he was ready for such a sacrifice. He had to start somewhere, and Teen Vogue was better than nothing.
Before he got to work, he filled his belly with hot beverages, biscuits, and two sandwiches with egg. Then he went out for a cigarette, took a picture of a banner laying on the ground, and came back to the tent, looking for somebody to ask for details. Unwilling to come in contact with the impassive bodyguard, Brendon approached another person in a yellow vest; this time a livilier one.
“Hello, Brendon Cry, Teen Vogue, may I have a moment of your time?” he recited as if a formula from his head, his words speeding bullets, requiring no response. “Have you got like a plan for the strike or anything? Like what’s coming up next and all?”
The girl looked at him and smiled, saying, “Well, I think it’s about to end soon.”
Nodding his head, not reacting but acknowledging the situation, Brendon said, “Okay, I see, good… Okay, then, can I interview somebody, I mean, the activists? Could be anybody, really.”
“You can interview me if you want to,” she said.
“Oh, err, great. Good. What time is it?”
She looked at her phone. “Six minutes to two in the afternoon.”
“Splendid,” he exclaimed with the intentional mockery of that word in itself, and explained to his interviewee that his editor wanted him to record the interview, that he had prepared a few questions, that they have to wait for his friend who was to help with the camera, and that there was nothing for her to worry about and if she made a mistake they could repeat a question. She listened attentively and seemed rather appalled with Brendon’s fast way of speaking contrasted with the long pauses he made in-between words. They went out of the tent, searching for a quieter place, Brendon still finishing his third coffee and with a cigarette in his hand.
They waited for forty minutes in vain, and while he didn’t mind a little chat, she seemed to grow more irritable by the minute. “I don’t think your friend is coming,” she said.
“Hmm, okay then, no problem,” said Brendon and got up, explaining the plan for the interview once again, this time with a few details changed, or rather adjusted to the situation. “So, what we’re gonna do is, first I’ll read you the questions and you’ll answer, but I will have to record you at the same time, so you will have to pretend that I’m sitting next to you, like we’re having a conversation. Don’t worry if you make a mistake, they’ll figure it all out in post-production. Then I will read the questions and pretend that you’re sitting next to me, and you’ll record me doing that, okay?” She nodded, with either disbelief or confusion on her face; he couldn’t tell which one. “I can repeat it if you want to, no worries.”
He didn’t have to repeat himself and the entire process took twenty minutes at most. Brendon couldn’t be more satisfied with it, especially that the whole thing was recorded. Now, everybody would see his sunglasses, his fur coat, his necklaces and painted shoes. Even the fact that he was reading the questions out of a tiny sheet of paper added to the image. He briefly went through the recordings to instill himself in the conviction.
Looking above the digital screen, he said, trying to compliment the girl, “Pretty good for a first interview.”
She gave an interrupted laugh and said, unsure, “Well, it was… hectic.”
Brendon looked her in the eye. “No, really, you did very well.”
Bestowing a pitiful look at him, she started to walk away. “I’ve been giving interviews for two years now,” she said, and disappeared in what remained of the crowd.
Back home, he immediately sat at his desk and opened a new file on his laptop, wishing it was an actual typewriter in front of him, not some modern replacement of that graceful machine. He typed the first sentence: The organizers of the demonstration had to cope not only with an impressive turnout, but also the chilling droplets of rain, falling from above. Then he went on to a poetic description of the screaming faces, the raised-up arms holding banners, and the mud forming ruthlessly under their heavy boots. The first paragraph was ready. Brendon read it once, twice, added a few adjectives and corrected his typos, but something wasn’t quite right. He typed almost one hundred words, one-seventh of his word limit on that piece for Teen Vogue, and still there was nothing about the nature of the demonstration itself. Gibberish. He deleted the entire thing and started again: When the morning sun beams fell on my face and woke me up, I was already late to the strike, but I couldn’t care less, for the gossip magazine that hired me had ridiculously small rates anyway. Too personal and too honest, wrong direction. For the next hour, through trial and error, Brendon attempted to come up for the perfect opening sentence, the solution to be dawned upon him. After a while, he reached a conclusion that there was nothing wrong with him or his writing – he lacked material. Desperately he needed to witness or do something crazy, something maverick and bold, something a little more gonzo. Then, not only would the articles virtually write themselves but they would also sell. Seeing the undeniable hopelessness of his situation, he opened another document, another blank page staring at him, and he began to write what came from his heart, abandoning reason. Putting his fingers on the keyboard, he wrote:
I sat at the keyboard
not! typewriter, regretfully
and put letters into words into sentences into paragraphs
a comprehensive report for a worthless gossip publication.
the more I stared into the whiteness of the page
the more it started staring into me &
so I saw myself
trying to be whom I was not
my fingers tied into a knot
not to be disentangled
I wasn’t the problem tho
nor were my fingers
it’s just that it was all
for the paycheck
for my parents to be proud
my own style to be found
not out of passion
not from the heart
not gonzo enough
I already have a style
and do what I do
that’s what I want to write about
leave the dull phrases to those without vision!
tomorrow is the day
let it happen what happen must
I’ll no longer be the slave
digging my own grave
I will do what I should of long ago
what I cannot just let go
I will fly and you will see
who I really want to be
When he finished writing the poem, it was getting dark outside. Before trying to give the Teen Vogue report one more chance, Brendon suddenly felt like a hot coffee with milk and a touch of honey. He could already feel the bitter-sweet taste on his tongue. In the kitchen, he put the coffee maker on a high heat. The boiling water in the lower component would boil and evaporate, going up through the ground coffee beans, and coming out as deep-colour black coffee of a rich, earthy smell in the upper part of the moka pot. He poured himself a large cup and prepared it as he always would. Taking the first sip, he noticed a dark silhouette coming into the kitchen and standing at the threshold, his face expressionless, his posture somehow intimidating. He put the cup on the tabletop and said, “Hello George.”
“Hello,” he replied, and proceeded into the kitchen to wash his own mug. Putting the water on, without even looking at Brendon, George said, “Can you ask me if you can use my coffee maker before you use it?”
There was not a hint of conflict in his voice, the request sounded more like a general’s command to his lower-rank colleagues. There was no other way for Brendon but to say, “Sure.” He took another sip and watched his flatmate wash the dishes. “Can I ask you a question?”
“I don’t know, can you?” Classic George, a dose of sarcasm, exceptional confidence. For Brendon, each interaction with his flatmate was a challenge, he treated it as a game. Every time, he would go back to his room either loving or hating that guy. George added, “What happened to your eyebrow?”
“I got in a fight. Why do you only wear black?”
Again, without honouring Brendon with a brief eye contact, moving on to wipe his mug dry, George asked, “Why do you wear colourful clothes?”
Beaten down, Brendon pressed his lips tight, nodded to himself slightly, and said, “You know that people don’t really like it when you reply to a question with another question?”
“So what?” George shrugged his shoulders.
“Have you ever heard about friends?” Half-jokingly, half-full-of-concern, Brendon tried to squeeze out just a few drops of empathy out of his flatmate; something he had never succeeded at before. The lack of empathy seriously bothered him.
“Friends? No, we don’t have that in the US,” replied George ironically. He was an Asian-American from St. Louis, Missouri, and he was an enigma to Brendon. Trying to give him a label, one could say he was a realistic cynic. He only wore black and ate cereal with water instead of milk; he often expressed his ideas about politics and how the society should look like, an educated and intelligent fellow he was, but it was hardly possible to classify him within any school of thought; when doing the laundry, Brendon noticed that George had three pairs of the same black, cheap trousers, black T-shirts, variations of black underwear, and he would always wear the same black hiking shoes, switching them for flip-flops only in his room. George cut his hair short, wore no jewellery, and didn’t pay for commute tickets. In a way, it was just a different form of Brendon’s careless attitude, yet a somehow disillusioned one and far harder to comprehend.
Brendon had to take a different approach. He felt he needed his flatmate’s counsel, but first he had to lay a foundation for a conversation. He asked casually, “Do you wanna play chess?”
“Sure,” replied George. “They’re in my room,” he said, which was a metaphor for ‘fetch it.’ Without a word, Brendon left the kitchen and went to the other room, paying mind to remove his shoes before he went in. From the door left ajar, a large computer screen was staring at him, with some kind of architectural building project on display, possibly a museum. The room was full of strange memorabilia: paintings of Berlin’s urban nature and an autoportrait, plants and vegetables in containers of all shapes and sizes, the American flag hung upside-down on the wall, and miscellaneous utensils such as brushes, crayons, pencils, and charcoal. Brendon approached a shelf filled with books ranging from Harari, through Marx, to Hoffer, and grabbed the wooden box of chess from its corner.
While Brendon was setting the board on the kitchen table, George reached for a green bottle of lager in the fridge. Brendon took a gulp of his coffee, finishing it, and wondering why it always happened that whenever George reached for a beer, Brendon too wanted one, but when that happened, he didn’t have any at the moment. Instead, he had to pour himself water, which was a mediocre replacement. Before sitting opposite, George began to tell a story from the olden days:
“When I studied at the University of Kansas, there was one time when we had classes with a substitute. Everybody sat wherever they wanted, so we were kinda scattered across the room and-”
Brendon interrupted him half-sentence and, in his clenched fists holding a black and a white pawn, he asked, “Left or right?”
“Left,” said George. It was black. He then went on to say, “And the teacher was like, ‘Everybody, please come down to the first rows so you can all hear me better.’ So everybody went down, it was like a staircase-classroom, but I stayed in the back and upstairs, and she asked me to come down, and I said, ‘No, thank you. I’m fine.’ And then she kept insisting and she asked me to stop wasting her time. I said: ‘You’re wasting our time. Why won’t you let me sit where I want and go on with the lecture?’”
“And what happened then?”
“Well, I had a college trial for disobedience and almost got expelled.”
Brendon nodded his head in approbation. That would be something to write about. George asked him, “Did you go to the demonstration today?”
“Yeah,” admitted Brendon and sighed wearily.
“Did you write about it?”
“I tried to but couldn’t. I don’t know…”
“Hm, I think they see the right problems but they don’t really have any viable solutions. They want a revolution but have no idea what would happen the day after. Every successful revolution had a thorough plan for the society afterwards. If they don’t know what they want to achieve, and only what they want to get rid of, they will only lead to fascism,” explained George. He would often remark his stances on such matters, himself calling for a revolution rather than evolution, especially criticising the American government which he loathed, oftentimes expressing his concern of being invigilated by the federal intelligence.
“You know, I would like to write something different,” said Brendon, hoping that his flatmate would come up with a brilliant idea of some sort. “You know, like Kerouac did, or Thompson, something more… gonzo.”
“By the way, I read the thing you’ve sent me,” said George, ignoring Brendon’s worries. “I didn’t really see a point in, no idea what you tried to tell.”
Inhaling deeply, trying to digest that vicious criticism, Brendon was about to start explaining himself, when George said, “You know, Kerouac travelled a lot, hitchhiking and stuff. Maybe you should try that one.”
An invisible light bulb went on in Brendon’s head. That was it! He had to backpack around the country, see places, meet people, take the plunge and take it all down, spontaneous prose. As a plan started forming in his head, already seeing himself on the road, George would go on to tell him about the common-sense, purely selfish reason to have children, the ways to tax the rich and tackle inequality, and the ruthlessness of landlords in Germany, but Brendon didn’t listen to him at all. When the game of chess was finished, with his flatmate coming out victorious as he always would, Brendon ran to his room, sketched a rough plan for the journey, packed his backpack with all the necessities, prepared the banners with city names, and set his alarm clock at sunrise.
Before he actually got out of bed the next morning, he hit the snooze button three times. Yes, he really wanted to go, but he could surely wait a bit. Nobody would pick him up when it was dark anyways, and he had to be fresh for the journey after all, so those few more minutes in bed were only for the benefit of the gonzo undertaking, he reasoned. When he finally did leave the flat, he caught an S-Bahn to the nearest highway. As he walked with his thumb stretched out along the asphalt, he would record his face for all the social media followers to see what he was up to. It was a part of the image-creating process, and a crucial one these days. Within the first fifteen minutes, he recorded four stories, talking at length about the plans for his journey, the contents of his backpack, and all the things they were about to witness. He also uploaded a post where he referred to On the Road, and even changed his profile picture to a black-and-white photo of Jack Kerouac, sitting laid-back on a chair. He imagined himself on that chair too, on the cover of The Rolling Stone magazine.
His first driver, however, wasn’t about to take him any far. Sirens-on, the police car stopped right in front of him, and one of the officers approached him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” His voice was more confused than angry.
“I’m going south,” replied Brendon calmly.
Perplexion on the police officer’s face was nearly tangible. “You can’t be here.”
Brendon’s bewilderment was just as visible. He asked, “What do you mean?”
“It’s illegal to be on the highway in Germany without a car.”
“Well then, where can I get off?”
The policeman smiled. “No, no, no,” he said, shaking his forefinger. “You’re coming with us.”
In the backseat of the police car, Brendon talked to the two officers. He wondered if they would give him a lift or take him straight to the police station. Either way would be fine; he wanted to get a mugshot at some point, that would be awesome, especially with that fresh scar of his. His hopes were stifled when he heard, “We’re taking you home.”
For hours he lay in bed, disappointed with himself, incapable of forgetting that dishonourable mishap. He wondered if that’s how Kerouac or Neil Cassady started too, but he doubted it. As quickly as possible, he deleted all the recent social media posts and stories. Not trying, staring at the white, high ceiling, Brendon wanted to cry but couldn’t. The worst of it all was that he had to pay a ten-euro fine atop of it all; not only did he not hitchhike properly, but he also lost money. Pathetic. Yet, he knew the worst was yet to come: he had to confess to George.
“The police dropped you off?” His voice was full of scornful disbelief. George laughed, quite honestly, which wasn’t a frequent scenario, and said, “That’s cheating.”
Great. Sitting at the kitchen table, hands around the coffee cup, now Brendon was the one omitting his flatmate’s – he would like to say ‘friend’s’ – eyes. “Yeah,” he said, “and I had to delete all the stories about it.”
“You talked about it on social media?” George was in stitches. “Why would you do that? I mean, you must have assumed that somebody actually cares about your life and what you’re doing,” he said. “Do you think it would be less real if you didn’t brag about it to your followers?”
Brendon left the kitchen and slammed the door behind him, closing himself off in his room. Enough, enough of those stinging questions, that mockery. He thought that George must have hated him, or himself. In a state of delirium, Brendon deleted all of his social media accounts, all of them. Irritated and disillusioned, he once again sat to the strike report, but moved on to writing poems anyway. Spilling his frustration on paper wasn’t enough to simmer himself down. There was only one thing left to do: get fucked up.
A half hour later he got off the tram near Weinbergspark. The way he walked was soaked with humanly arrogant loathing for George, himself, the world. Passing by groups of people, seeing no familiar faces, he imagined that somebody would approach him, making a funny remark about his black fingernails or his scarred face. Then, looking them frantically in the eyes, Brendon would start shrieking in agony as if they were tearing his skin off alive. Or, he would at once punch the bastard in the face, no time for word-duals, so hard he would break his nose, and then scream to the joker’s friends, “Don’t come near me, motherfuckers.” Surely, they would come near him, and he would lose himself in a fighting spree, kicking in chests, punching in stomachs, and tightening his grip on throats. Or better, he would take out a full-blown samurai sword from his pocket, two feet long, and putting his entire body, his hip-spin and shoulder-throw, into the swing, he would cut the guy in half, or maybe chop his arm off, let the blood spill on the ground as people around begin to scream and to run away and call the cops and Brendon would just stand there, breathing heavily, his hair heavy and flowing down in cascades on his face, all the fear and misery of the one-armed fool reflected in the mirror-like blade of his katana, resting in his hand, ready for another strike, swing, cut. None of that happened, yet he wished it would. Maybe then he would feel better.
A group of bell-ringing faces was where Brendon drank wine and whiskey and beer, not being too talkative yet trying not to show anybody the grievance over his recent failure. Another confident and slightly-off guy took the mantle of being the centre of attention, and Brendon felt strangely appalled by his presence in itself, sensing similar accumulation of energy, a competition-inducing feeling that was on a collision course with his self-pitiful drinking bout. Brendon avoided that guy by all means. No, he couldn’t even look at him, so full of himself, everybody smiling in his presence, while he, the Brendon Cry, was going through a crisis of self-belief, sitting in a deep pit of doubt. He had to go for a walk, not to get somewhere, but to give his body something to do while his brain would focus on thinking. That was the hard bit. He didn’t know what to do now. Disappointed with himself, he remembered all those dreams of his face, sunglasses on his nose, uncombed hair, in a fancy shirt or something of that sort, being on the front page of The Rolling Stone magazine. Or maybe not a close-up but his whole silhouette, casually sitting on a high stool, leaning forward and laughing with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth. At the bottom would stand the headline, written in capital letters, maybe in bold, with an exclamation mark, summarizing everything he represents and everything people love him for, with those dreamy eyes and questionable manners, the slogan of his personal war with decency and television: GONZO IS BACK! It wasn’t so easy though, not these days: there were no Hell’s Angels to ride and drink with, no cabin in Big Sur to sit in and listen to the waves of the Pacific Ocean conversing melancholically and then write poems about them, no LSD controlled trials on volunteers to participate in and then tell stories about the experience in some dark pub, sipping beer and watching a jazz band playing mellowly, no wars in Vietnam to protest against, no Zen weddings to buy a small hand-made coffin as a gift for the groom and the bride, no nothing. Desperate, hesitating between slitting his veins open or simply getting more drunk, he sat on the ground, then got up again, kicked bottles on the pavements and watched them break into smithereens against kerbs, then went on to stealing people’s alcohol, asking for cigarettes, once even taking them from the people’s hands, so he wouldn’t have to bother with lighting them up. He couldn’t find his old group, and for good – he spared himself the dread of seeing that self-confident bastard again and chatted with some people, nevermind who they were, here and there.
“Are you a squatter?” The guy who asked this question to Brendon was smoking a joint, and the sentence was interrupted by a sudden spasm of coughing.
“No, not really,” he replied, wishing he was more fucked up and not having to deal with such demanding social interactions consciously.
“Ah, okay, cool,” said the guy, and then added, “Thought you might know something about that arson thing.”
Brendon’s curiosity was sparked up and the good-old journalistic instinct didn’t fail him, despite the horror he was going through. “Arson thing?”
“Yeah, there is a fire right now, in Kreuzberg.”
The name of the district was well familiar to him, yet his mind wasn’t clear at that moment at all and any associations were hardly possible. “What…? Why, what happened?”
“You know, they evicted Liebig34 last Friday,” he started explaining. Brendon was familiar with that famous squat, and he did hear about the police sieging the building and then fighting the anarcha-queer-feminists and squatters of Liebig34. He remembered the regret that came after he heard about it, wishing he had been there to see, to be in the middle of the happening, to feel the tension in his muscles and the warmth of a hundred people’s emotions bustling inside, the tangible violence of a riot. That was his chance, and he missed it, which only added to his inner dismay. The guy continued, “Now the whole thing’s on fire. There were no people inside, and all their shit was removed already, but they wanted to burn it down anyway. Someone hired by the landlord, probably, to take away their hope too, I think. They do that sometimes, my dad told me, and beat people. I don’t know, it’s their building after all.”
Hear the elaborate speech Brendon could not, for he was already on his way to the burning squat. A moment of clarity, a sign from the universe, epiphany – he didn’t know what to call it, but now he knew exactly what he should do for that The Rolling Stone cover. Everything was in its place, how could he have not seen it before? So obvious, so clear. The outcasts, the squatters, his contemporary Hell’s Angels were right there in front of him. He had to investigate, to meet those people better, get to know their beliefs and lives and hairdos inside out, maybe even live with them for a year, and then write, write, write, take it all down, pave his way to that headline, his face on the magazine cover in shop-windows, his mistakes atoned and his life redeemed. Filled with passion, a future to look forward to and to work for, his head was clear, alcohol having lost its power over him when all those hormones kicked in.
He arrived to see the intervention at its dusk, firefighters already packing their toys and a couple small police squadrons standing at the street corners, boasting about each other’s kids and how much they gambled on the recent football match. Brendon needed to find somebody to talk to, somebody, and quickly. He looked about himself: smoke, two girls taking pictures, a group of people with their arms akimbo and nodding their heads, a lonely man sitting at somebody’s front door, a couple holding each other’s hands and watching the firemen driving away; more smoke. The decision was quick, he would go for the lone wolf, but he had to be careful not to scare the creature off.
“Mind if I sit?” His voice was tender, a full-of-understanding smile on his face, standing not in front of him but more to the side, a hunter approaching his prey. The man only shook his head. Brendon took a seat beside him though he wasn’t sure if the man meant “No, I don’t mind” or “No, you can’t sit here.” Not meeting his eyes too much, avoiding the possibility of an accidental intimidation, he began to roll a cigarette. “Pretty bad, innit?” This conversation-starter turned out to be futile. Imperturbed in his efforts, Brendon asked, “You used to live here?”
Without looking at him, the man said in a mourning voice, “I’m not in a mood for talking.”
Nodding his head, honouring the griever’s will, Brendon kept rolling, thinking about ways to make the man talk. He must have lived in that squat, Brendon didn’t doubt it for a second, especially after what he had said, the way the man acted. Too much passion was in him to give up now. Giving it a couple seconds to sink in, he said to the man, “Bloody terrible, those evictions.”
“Didn’t you hear?” Irritation was like a slap in the face. “I’m in no mood for talking.”
Again, nodding, rolling, looking around, waiting a moment in the strange stillness of that night. Maybe he should be upfront, let’s try a different approach. “Actually, I want to write about the squatters and the culture, you know, an article or a book,” he said in a dreamy voice.
“Yeah?” There was no dream or patience in the man’s voice. “I don’t give a shit.”
Nodding, rolling, lighting the cigarette up, and standing up. The plan was good, not so much its implementation, but it wasn’t Brendon’s fault after all – the man didn’t want to talk, his problem. He wasn’t the only squatter in the city, now was he? Having wished him a jolly good evening and puffing on his cigarette, Brendon hit the sack and started to look about the neighbourhood. Kreuzberg was full of squats, he had heard, there must have been something, no other option. On the walls around him graffiti, paintings, banners, circle-As along with other bizarre symbolism, empty wine bottles, food and clothes for the homeless, posters… Posters! He approached one and examined it briefly: events, manifestos, strikes, websites, and meetings. The next meeting of the anarchist federation – this Thursday, 8pm. Brilliant, wonderful, perfect. He knew he had to be there.
And he was there, although he came too early, which might have made him look like the newbie he was, for which he scorned himself in his head. In front of the closed gates he had to wait twenty minutes and smoke three cigarettes in this time before people, four persons to be exact, started gathering around him, waiting for the meeting to start. So much he wanted to ask somebody if it was their first time as well, for they looked unlike Brendon had imagined them, wearing simple hoodies rather than studded leather jackets and crew cuts instead of mohawks, but he knew that would be even less tactful. The bits of conversation he overheard were rather dull, and he felt nothing like making new friends just yet; he wanted to give himself time to invigilate the inner relationships and social nets of that underground world, concealed from the regular citizens. His homework done, like a good boy he was, he knew that due to the audacious misrepresentation of the anarcha-queer-feminist squatters – however absurd that name sounded – in the media as the unquestionable inbreds of Lucifer himself, poisoning the hearts of the good people living in proper houses and flats with their counterculture ideology, their attitude towards journalists wasn’t friendly whatsoever. He wouldn’t reveal his true motives, regardless of how gonzo they could be, just in case. Besides, he wanted them to treat him as one of their kin, let him sink into this outlaw civilisation, live it and not just report on it. In his head everything was worked out: Brendon could almost see himself organizing and leading anti-government demonstrations on the street instead of taking pictures of them, plotting against the system in dark basements instead of getting drunk there, becoming the centre of his own story and telling people about it and making it to the top and winning, winning, winning.
The meeting began with a few technical issues, trying to connect with a member of the federation via an online platform. In the rectangular room, Brendon saw posters on the walls, newspapers stacked on piles, and nonfiction novels, yet he didn’t stare at them for too long, concealing his curiosity, trying not to look like a tourist and give himself away. At home he did have an anarchist necklace among others, that circle-A made of stainless steel, but that too would make him appear as if he was trying too hard to blend into the environment, too tacky and too obvious such a choice of jewellery, he reasoned. Looking around the people’s faces, he was searching for signs of authority-hatred, drug addiction, tattoos, and unorthodox hairdos. Much to his confusion, in that leather jacket and premeditated gonzo appearance, he stuck out of the crowd. Those around him looked nothing like he imagined, and their voices were even soothing in a bizarre way, not the throaty roars he had expected to hear.
They began with an upcoming strike, and a gentle guy said, “We were contacted by the organizers of the women’s rights demonstration. It’s not in Berlin but a suburban town on the east borders, they said we can come but we would only have like ten minutes so it’s better if we don’t come at all. The demonstration is next Friday, so if anybody wants to go, feel free to, but no pressure. Somehow they want to tie it in with animal rights notions and asked us to help with the narrative, if we could, so – anybody has any ideas?”
On Brendon’s left sat a man petting his German shepherd and, without letting his eyes off the dog, he said, “They can say that hunting is mostly a men’s hobby. When the husband goes hunting he leaves his wife with the children at home, so it’s another house chore for women to take care of. They gotta care for the kids and cook and all.” He gave his dog a snack and added, “I don’t know, they can say something like that.”
“Yeah, then the hunters will take their children along,” joked the just too-regular-looking guy. The matter was dropped rather quickly without any further discussion. He continued, “We should also talk about Danny.”
“Well, I’m quite informed on that, I spoke with the girls, so I can say a few things,” said a girl whom Brendon saw earlier in front of the gates while smoking. He had no idea who Danny or ‘the girls’ were, but he listened.
“Go on then, May.”
She corrected herself on the chair, combed her hair with her hand, and began, “So, generally speaking, the girls have complained that Danny has been acting quite aggressively towards them. We all know it’s not the first time, and that he goes to therapy, but the girls and I thought that maybe we could talk to him as a group and try to solve it out on our own.”
A crew-cut twenty-something-old guy countered, “That would fuck up his therapy, wouldn’t it?”
“Maybe,” admitted May, and turned to him, “hence our asking you, Finn, if you could stop giving Danny his Muay Thai lessons. If he doesn’t know anything he won’t be able to use it against anybody, right?” May reasoned.
“He already knows everything,” said Finn calmly. “If he wants to use it, he will.”
The discussion on Danny’s aggressive behaviour between May and Finn backed by other guys continued for the next quarter of an hour. Sitting there listening and trying to make notes in his mind, Brendon felt like in a Brazilian television show, whose only plot was exaggerated familial conflicts, relations, mistresses, divorce, marriage, betrayal, cooperation, and those unnaturally prolonged tension-making scenes of staring at each other. Waiting for something real to come up, perhaps bombs or assassinations or riots, Brendon listened for them to no avail. Danny’s case was postponed to the next week’s meeting, and other points covered legal issues with landlords and lawsuits, lacking money for refurbishments, responsibilities and who had to take the rubbish out and when, whether the collection of plastics and glass had been postponed this month, and what about this book? I think we should buy it to our library – anybody for? anybody against? Good, I’ll buy it, it’s eight euros. Also, we need some help with carrying paint buckets after the meeting, so three or four guys please come with me to help. How’s it going with social media, any news? Have you read that recent news report? It was funny. Okay, anything else? Somebody’s got something to add? No? Great, that’s it for today, see you next week.
Out on a smoke, Brendon was disillusioned again. So much he anticipated from the anarchists, especially judging by their sketchy reputation. Where were those monsters, those public enemies, those conformity scorners? All he found at the squat were human beings, with everyday human problems, dull problems. There was nothing gonzo about them, nothing to risk – nor life nor health nor reputation – by joining them, let alone writing about them. Brendon didn’t need humans, humans were everywhere, he had had enough of them already. The anarcha-queer-feminists were no Beatniks, no Hell’s Angels, no hippies, no underground poets, and they didn’t ‘fuck the system’ as they were supposed to. Dammit, he should have known there was no sex to them by the way they call themselves alone. Smoking, he could no longer see the magazines, the interviews, the headlines, the fame, nothing of that. As he lit another cigarette, somebody patted him on the shoulder.
“Have you got a lighter?” asked May, smiling at him. Without a word, he gave it to her. “I’m May. You’re new here, right? Nice to meet you.”
“Brendon Cry,” he said, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you too.”
“I’ve been reading a great book recently,” she said, skipping the small talk. “It’s by Noam Chomsky, do you know him?”
“Of course I do,” he said. He already liked her, and added, “They say he’s the father of modern linguistics.”
“Yes! It’s amazing how he talks about it. Is he still alive?”
Brendon shrugged. “I don’t know. If he is, he must be pretty old by now.”
She laughed briefly and there was something cute about it. She asked, “What happened to your face?”
He touched his eyebrow. After all these setbacks and abandoned dreams, he decided to tell her the truth. “I tripped when I was drunk.”
“Huh. Lucky you still got your eye,” she said. Though there was nothing exciting about tripping in contrast to fighting somebody, or self-mutilating, or all the other things he could say but didn’t, she wasn’t disappointed. She liked him too. They both finished their cigarettes and May suggested, “Let’s go to the kitchen. It’s getting pretty cold out here.”
So they did, talking about counterculture literature and hitchhiking and LSD as May ate her vegan late dinner (they only had vegan food there) and Brendon sipped the hot tea she made him. As they conversed, people would go in and out of the room, sometimes adding their own bits to the discussion, passing through the kitchen to the toilet – one for all sexes or genders or whatever – and as they exchanged information on what they had recently read or saw or watched or briefly heard about, Brendon kept thinking if all the wonders he wished he had experienced in the 1950s and 1960s had also been so unexcitingly human. What if Ginsberg, Kesey, Thompson, Kerouac, the hippies, all his idols, were in reality that regular and boring too? What if it was just the way they were portrayed or pictured themselves that added this magical special sauce to their personas and created their legends, immortal and divine? The more he thought about it, the more he was losing hope that he would ever be equal to them. All of his attempts ended at nothing, pushing his head deeper under the water and throwing sand of real life into his dreamy eyes. He enjoyed talking to May, they got along well, but still something was missing. Maybe if he wrote about the conversation later it would lose its tedious realism. The kitchen was a place exclusive for squatters, yet it wasn’t much different from a normal kitchen. Fed up with the sluggish reality, Brendon wanted to lose his head again.
“You wanna get drunk tonight?” he asked May with a touch of hope in his voice.
“Sure,” she said, finishing her pasta. “I know a place.”
They went together to a pub at Køpi, one of the most popular squats in Berlin, and the atmosphere of the dark place was all Brendon had wanted: heavy metal music so loud you had to shout at a person sitting next to you, beers going from hand to hand and spilling on the floor and the uneven, rocking tables; cigarette and marijuana smoke rising in the air and fogging the place. There, he got a glimpse of the underground subculture, for the pub was a beehive for misfits and rebels from all across the city, some of them with clerk jobs and families, others still studying management or tourism, many eccentric only for weekends, centred around that Friday-night bohemia. All the good things, everything he had wished for, but he didn’t care anymore. Brendon spent the evening with May, playing table-football and sharing drinks and asking her about her family and hobbies and favorite food and what she liked to do in her free time – same questions that popped up on every party he had been to, but this time it was different. He didn’t forget the answers at once, he really would listen. He wanted to. After he found the remaining two blue pills in his pocket and shared them with May, the rest of the night faded away in a blurry caricature of reality.
When the lazy morning sun rays fell on his eyelids around 10 in the morning, his head hurt. Brendon reached for his phone but there were no notifications. On his side, one of his legs pressed to her bottom and one of his arms under her hickey-marked neck, lay May. As gently as it was possible he freed himself from her weight and went to the kitchen to brew himself a cup of coffee with milk and honey, a little sweeter than usual. As water began to boil in the coffee maker, he opened his kitchen window wide-open and lit a cigarette, shirtless, dizzy, feeling the wind blow on his chest and cause goosebumps on his skin.
He heard a familiar voice behind him. George said, “Can you not smoke in the kitchen?”
“Good morning,” said Brendon and threw the half-finished cigarette through the window. He poured himself the coffee but his flatmate didn’t comment on that. Instead, he said:
“When I was in college, I would draw with charcoal a lot. My clothes would get very dirty with it and so I decided to wear only black clothes. It was easier when doing laundry too so I just stuck to it.”
Clinging with a teaspoon in his cup, Brendon smiled without saying a word. No hurt feelings, he liked George for what he was, for his not caring and hurtful honesty. He liked him for being authentic, as authentic as Brendon would like to be. And just before leaving the kitchen, struck by an afterthought that surprised even himself, and one which he decided to – at once, no time to waste – express verbally as if not to accidentally suppress it in his unconscious mind and trigger it to grow into the size and terrible stink of regret, let it flow around freely instead, he said, “You know what, George?” Brendon didn’t really turn around but tilt his head to the side, watching his flatmate with the corner of his eye. “You’re a cunt,” he said blandly, a statement rather than an insult. “But in a good way,” he added and walked away, without waiting for a response he neither wanted nor needed.
George looked at Brendon’s back, coming over the threshold and disappearing behind the wall, and said, “Thank you.” It was the first compliment he had heard in years. He moved on to cooking, chopping vegetables, putting spices in pots, adding water and milk and, all that time, smiling to himself.
In his room, May was still sleeping. Brendon put the coffee cup silently on the table and sat on a stool he used as a night table to see her better. A thought to open his laptop and type something was stifled at once. Instead, he examined her like a piece of art: her bad and irregular morning breath coming through a half-open mouth, her messy and tangled hair, her crooked front tooth, her naked, inked skin, her smell of cheap cologne and smoke. Not beautiful or perfect, yet exquisite, and – somehow – perfect for him. He lay down next to her, cuddling in, waiting for her to wake up. Feeling her warmth, he didn’t need drugs, hitchhiking, alcohol, or even writing that late morning. She was gonzo enough for him.