Las Vegas, or: How to make a fool of yourself without dying in the attempt (4)

As a Ph.D student in physics, I went to a collaboration meeting in Boulder, Colorado in the U.S.A., and took an extra week off for driving around the neighbouring states: Colorado, Utah, Arizona,… I had rented a car which, like most American cars, had an automatic transmission which made it much easier to drive for hours on end without getting tired. At least, without getting tired of driving. I did get tired of the radio stations which in those places only played country music and sermons. In the end, in Flagstaff, Arizona, I bought two tapes, one of Bo Diddley and one of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and listened to those instead. Much better. And of course, if I say “Flagstaff Arizona”, Chuck Berry fans will already have thought of route 66, which indeed I drove on for a few miles although it is not really used as a main road anymore. Other things I remember: a Navajo guide in Monument Valley who asked me, being a physicist, to drop a nuclear bomb on Washington, bookstores that served tea, music shops that sold guns, and a tacky dancing where a married wife tried to hit on me but got stopped by her brother-in-law, and endless roads, endless roads, just like in the movies. And, of course, I remember Las Vegas.

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How to make a fool of yourself without dying in the attempt (3)

I am not a great talker. I don’t really enjoy it. And I don’t see why people would make the talking process take longer than strictly necessary. Why say: ‘Yes, I agree with you’ if you can just as well say: ‘yes’? Or – indeed – why say anything at all, if you agree anyway? As you can imagine, meetings at work are a torture to me, telephone calls are life threatning and my choice to live in Spain (a country that lives for two things only: eating and speaking, preferably at the same time) was, in this respect, maybe not well thought through.

However, the problem existed also in the Netherlands, and to show it’s not only a matter of  being a grumpy old man, it existed as well when I was young.

I was about 14 years old and I was invited to the home of a friend. Actually, we were not really very good friends, and I am not sure we even liked each other much, but anyway, we were class mates and I was at his place, in his room. We were playing some very complicated board game, involving dice, ships and special bonus cards and it was my turn. I was thinking very hard about what was going on and then his mother came in with tea. She said: ‘hi’, and I answered: ‘hi’, and she said: ‘I have brought tea’ and we both said: ‘thank you’, and then I went back to the game, trying to figure out the rules and what I was supposed to do. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, she kept on talking but I did not pay attention. Only when suddenly there fell a silence I looked up and saw on their faces that some kind of answer was expected from me. My thoughts were still elsewhere and I said: ‘Yes, goodbye’ and turned back to that bloody game again.

It was the embarrassed laugh of my class mate that told me that I had done something wrong. I looked up, suddenly blushing heavily but it was already too late. ‘Yes, goodbye!’ his mother snapped back and then went out of the room, closing the door with an exclamation mark. Unable to think of ways to fix the situation (apologize, jump out of the window) I just pretended it hadn’t happened and we went on playing the game.

I don’t remember how I got out of the house. If it hadn’t been on the 4th floor, I would have sworn I did jump out of the window.

(versión en español)

The Sentence

‘The only real pleasure of writing (and reading) is repetition,’ the Writer pondered. Repeating the same situation, the same idea with only slightly different words, is what makes writing (or reading) the most pleasurable. There is no greater pleasure than reading (or writing) the same thing over and over again, with only little changes in the wordings.

And, as a matter of fact, not even a change of words is necessary. Why not simply repeat the same sentence over and over again?

‘When I am famous and I can do whatever I well please, I will do that,’ the Great Writer mused. ‘I will write a book with the same sentence repeated over and over again.’ It would be a book with, over and over again, the same sentence. It should be a simple sentence. Nothing fancy. A simple sentence without any coy cleverness or fake fanciness.

The man took off his hat when he entered the shop… ” (The man clearly should wear a hat, to give it a touch of the archaic.)

“The man took off his hat when he entered the shop, greeted the shop girl, and asked for half a loaf of whole wheat bread, in slices.”

Maybe it could be “the smiling shop girl“, but that would be already pushing it, because why would she be smiling?

The book, about 278 pages long, would only contain that same sentence. Over and over again. What a pleasure would it be to write it! What a pleasure would it be to read it! Its title would be “The Sentence“. The Dutch translation would even be nicer because “De Zin” would mean “the sentence”, “the meaning”, “the sense” and “the desire”.

He would read the entire book, sentence after sentence and in the end would turn over the last page and read the last line: “The man took off his hat when he entered the shop, greeted the smiling shop girl, and asked for half a loaf of whole wheat bread, in slices.” And then he would close the book and then open it again and start all over right from the beginning. No other book would be necessary any longer.

It would be the book to end all books.

How to make a fool of yourself without dying in the attempt (2)

I am a nervous guy. I can’t just leave things half undone. When a book is not quite aligned on the coffeetable, I first have to put it right, before I can  watch my favorite film on the video (or listen to my favorite song of my favorite band). To take my time and relax instead of fixing something right away, is a difficult thing for me to do.

One morning I was having a long, hot shower in my bathroom which was big and without windows, so that all the steam stayed inside it, creating quite a sauna effect. It was probably this heat and humidity which caused the light bulb to suddenly explode. Shards of glass flew all around and landed on the floor. I quickly switched off the water and opened the bathroom door to let in some light. That’s when I saw that, strangely enough, parts of the bulb and the complete cap and electrical contact of the bulb had remained still screwed into the electrical socket.

‘Well, let’s first take that out,’ I thought without thinking or taking time to dry myself. So, naked and wet, I stood up on my toes, stuck out my hand and procured to turn out the bulb from the socket.

I am a tall person, but luckily the ceiling of this bathroom was so high that I had to stand on my toes. The electricity went straight through my right hand, traveled through one side of my trunk, then proceeded along my hip, my right leg and finally my toes. The force was strong enough to throw me off balance and, so, break the electrical contact.

I lied on the floor between pieces of glass for maybe a minute while realising that I just barely had escaped death. I laughed maniacally, whispered: ‘I made it’ with a voice as if I was acting my part in a David Lynch movie and then stood up, switched off the light, walked out of the bathroom and switched off the main electricity too, just to be sure.

Then I sat down, still naked and wet, on the sofa and took a deep breath.

(En español)

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How to make a fool of yourself without dying in the attempt (1)

One early morning, while I was still living in Amsterdam, I rode on my bike to work on the Rooseveltlaan, a very broad street, which I assumed was a priority road. Hence, when I saw a car coming from a side street without stopping, and a group of cyclists waiting for the car to cross the bike path, I thought: the bastard! And, also: the fools!

I calculated distances and relative velocities and figured that I could still make it, passing the car with a slight margen. I was right about that. Moreover, feeling that I had both justice and the law on my side, I stuck up my middle finger to the driver in the car while I rode by, just for good measure.

Unfortunately, I had not seen that the side street was wider than I thought and alongside the car I had just passed another car came along which was also about to cross the bike path. Instead, the car hit me on the side, full-on, and both me and my bike made a semi-arc through the air and came to lie down beyond the crossing, back on the bike path.

Just before I landed on the street, still flying in the air, I saw the traffic lights… They were red. Which meant I had been wrong all along. I did not have any priority whatsoever. I laid on the pavement with my eyes closed and my bike lying over me and heard worried voices of other people. I was so much filled with shame about the enormity of my blunder that I did not want to see them.  The memory of the middle finger I had raised to the car driver made me cringe in painful embarrassment. I faintly hoped that I was sufficiently badly injured for it to be necessary to take me away unconsciously.

Alas, I had nothing except for some scratches.

The drivers of both cars had stepped out. Both were concerned, even friendly, which made ​​things even worse. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I told them a three hundred thousand times. My face was, not unlike an overripe tomato, ready to explode. I waved away all the help, said I was fine, got up on my bike and rode away.

The shame was so big that I needed pretty much the rest of the entire day to pick myself up again.

(En español)

Yesterday is tomorrow, only backwards

Good and well in the 7th year of an economical crisis still going strong, our hero, Sandy Prime, decided to write down all the things she used to know before the crisis had come. Things that were lost now and things she sometimes even had trouble remembering or believing they once really existed. In fact, her project was doomed from the beginning for this very reason for the few things she did remember hardly seemed real: fresh milk, newspapers, elections, holiday seasons, trainstations, broken hearts and hotdog stands. Also: bookshops and beaches, blind dates and blue bloods and broken beer bottles in brown bricked back streets. It had been a long time since she had seen an old man in a wheelchair or a group of children playing football in the streets. Surely, the latter was a product of her imagination and never really had existed.

On the other hand, she was pretty sure it once had been possible to open a window.

(Note: The title comes from a song by the Virgin Prunes)

(En español)

Off day off

Our secondary school gave its classes in various buildings: shacks in shambles in the woods, a desolate office building next to a chemistry factory, and, most importantly, an musty stone building so old that one could smell the dead souls of generations long gone. This building was called the dépendance, which was a French word which none of us could neither pronounce nor explain but which meant something like extra building. It was here were we committed our most atrocious crimes against our fellow students. It was here that we tied with impossible knots a girl to a staircase post. It was here that we covered with dog poo the saddle of a bike. It was here that we wrote swastikas on bare legs. And it was here that we locked me up for half a day in a shed and threw my schoolbag in the lake behind. No, I am lying. In the last case, we didn’t do that, they did that. I felt a bit weak that day.

( En español )