The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 4 October 2010

Chapter Two: Wonderful World

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do
They’re really saying "I..."
- Louis Armstrong: What A Wonderful World (first recorded 1968, lyrics by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss)

When I came to, the two blokes sharing the dorm room with me at the YMCA were up and about, quietly brushing their teeth and packing their stuff. For a while I stayed on the bed and just stared at the blank white ceiling above me, and listened to these two strangers move about around me and whisper to each other every now and then to not wake me.
It reminded me of another morning in another bed, one week before I had left Berlin for England. Well, it hadn’t really been a morning. In fact, it must have been about 6 pm, on Saturday, July 5th. But I woke up in a strange bed just the same and for a while just stared at the ceiling.
That ceiling however had been painted black, just like the walls, and it had had a fading crown molding, marking it clearly as that of an old Wilhelminian tenement building – and not the 60s council flat, with the low, unornamented ceiling made of rough, fire resistant cement render that I had woken up to most mornings of my life. The molding had been gilded. And I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was. I could barely remember who I was. All I knew was that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
The first thing I had become aware of that morning had been the smell. A mix of unwashed bed linen, stale cigarette smoke, musty socks, and drying puke. The second thing had been the killer hangover. You know the kind that radiates outward from deep within your neck and tightens your shoulders.
The third had been the disgusting taste in my mouth. At least part of the puke seemed to be my own.
Only then had I opened my eyes and discovered the strange ceiling.
I was thankful that the place was moderately gloomy. That was in part due to the black paint, in part t0 the late hour. A little dappled sunlight was shifting on the high ceiling. Something outside, perhaps the windscreen of a parked car, was reflecting the low sun upwards through the branches of a tree standing outside the window.
I tried to remember, well, anything. At first I was drawing a complete blank. Then slowly, memories were emerging from the murk. A fight at someone’s party. A fight with my best mate, Leo. Then some other party, mostly older blokes, college kids. I remembered drinking too much, too fast, and too indiscriminately. Everything drowning in a fuzz of stroboscopic lights, loud music, and a sea of unknown faces.
This hadn’t been my first blackout, but the first time I woke up in a completely strange place. Normally one of my mates would have kept enough wits about him to either get the rest of us to his own abode or dump us at our respective rents’s places. Not so that night, apparently. I had been on my own.
Somewhere nearby someone was snoring. I could feel warm skin against my own. Braving vertigo I slowly sat up. Immediately the hangover reared and bit down on my skull with those particular steel jaws that seem to the be the divinely ordained punishment for very sweet wine or very cheap vodka.
The room was untidy bordering on the catastrophic. The black walls had been haphazardly plastered with posters of German Hip Hop bands. The desk was buried under an avalanche of physics and computer science textbooks. Two or three games consoles, several monitors, an electric bass, and a stereo, all covered in drifts of dirty laundry, constituted another mountainous island rising against one wall out of the sea of pizza crusts, socks, CD covers, comic books, and hundreds of pages torn from a college block and covered in dense, spindly handwriting. My unknown host was still snoring, lost somewhere in the heaps of crumpled bedcovers.
I got up, dizzy and aching, and began wading through the room, sifting the debris for my clothes or at least clothes that could pass for mine. When I was reasonably dressed I had one last glance around, swiped a half full pack of Prince (what sort of person smokes Prince, I ask you? In case you are wondering, I have always been a Lucky Strike man myself, except for that phase when I smoked Roth Händle; and always filterless, not so much because of the taste but because of the much cooler soft packs), and let myself out. To this day I have no idea with who I spend that night. And you know what?
I like it that way. I like it a lot.
I spent the evening wandering around Neukölln. At Hermannplatz I tested if drinking coffee really makes you any more sober, but as far as I could tell, it only makes you more awake. Eventually I got kicked out for smoking and went for a stroll in Hasenheide Park. Hermannplatz is within walking distance of my mum’s flat, and only two stops on the U-Bahn, but I really didn’t feel like going there. My mum would be working, but she would have noticed that I hadn’t been in all night. It was weekend, sure enough, but with all that had happened in the past year her tolerance for antics was on a record low, and we’d been in too many fights as it was.
My sister ‘Nessa would be there, though, with her little boy, and when I’d come in she’d bitch me out. How can you do this to mum, you know how she worries, do you have to muck everything up, you are only fifteen for chrissake, yadda, yadda, yadda. I mean, for chrissake, she’s the one who got herself knocked up at 18. But she’d go at it anyway, and I was just too tired of it all.
It was a truly beautiful evening. The air was humid and oppressively warm, the sky the colour of a fading bruise, with a thunderstorm in the making somewhere far away. Junkies and bunnies were going about their respective businesses in the bushes. Gnats were dancing their mystical dances. In their enclosure the deer were pointlessly walking to and fro. And around the corner was a playground where the last of the toddlers were frolicking with their rents. I sat on a the backrest of a park bench, feet firmly planted on the seat, and enjoyed the last Prince, without a care in the world.


  1. When blackouts started to come a little more frequently, I knew I had to look at my drinking more seriously. Probably what really bothered me was that I was almost enjoying the blackout thing, losing that much control over myself. Big problem.

    Great description here. And it's kind of neat how you put the two wake-ups together. Not the same or similar, but sometimes certain things can trigger memories like this and this is a valuable exploration.

  2. @ Andrew: Yeah. I quit drinking last year. I also tried quitting smoking, but, alas, the flesh is weak, lol. But at least with the lack of booze I'm good. It did get a whole lot worse before, though... it is such an alluring way out.

  3. didn't mention this the first time (heck, didn't think of it during the read), but figured I'd better make mention of this since I do keep thinking about it now.

    The "posters of German Hip Hop bands" -- I'm picking at the nits here, but in terms of writing, instead of just saying German Hip Hop bands, give some specific details. Include two actual names maybe, or describe the posters. If that makes sense. Know where I'm going with this suggestion?