Monday, May 24, 2010

The Germans

Our trip to Germany happened right in the middle of a massive and terrible project that consumed all of my time at my job. In the weeks preceding our trip I was working a fair amount of overtime. In the weeks following it, I was working an even heavier amount of overtime. This was a difficult thing for me to swallow, especially in the context of all of the satiated people whom I had spoken with overseas. They all had copious amounts of vacation time. Most Europeans get between four to six weeks of vacation per year. As an American I get two. On top of that, all of the overtime that I had to put in before and after the trip turned out to be greater than the amount of time that I had taken off. That is objectively shitty. That is a failure of our American culture. The meager vacation time to which you’re entitled cannot even be used unless you put in that time beforehand and/or afterwards in the form of overtime. It’s not really time off at all, it’s simply a displacement of time. Yes, they pay more taxes, but it looks pretty fucking worth it to me. They get more in return. Americans have attached great stigma to the word “socialism” as a result of the Cold War, but we’re going to need to defeat our prejudice of the rhetoric and dysfunctional ideals that have demonized that word if we’re going to improve our way of life. These weren’t new thoughts to me. I had grasped them conceptually before our trip to Germany, but the firsthand experience made them incredibly vivid. It was the most valuable thing I learned on the trip.

This might all sound like a lot of bourgeois whining. Very likely it is. These are the gripes of a man with a well-paying salaried job. Many other Americans’ situations are much more difficult than mine. Regardless, I hate working. Reading, drinking, making art, listening to music, and fucking are all so much more rewarding.

That giant unpleasant project finally ended about a month after our return from our trip. It had been a terrible thing to work on. It felt good to be done with it, and as my work routine receded to a more realistic and manageable level I regained my desire for insanity and decadent behavior. It had been a while since my wife and I had done any swinging, and I was hunting for new candidates online. It’s a very frustrating and tricky game, finding good candidates for anonymous sex. We’ve come to a point in our swinging, through years of experience, that we are really only interested in other couples. Singles just don’t work out as evenly. Think about how difficult it is to find a person with whom you click sufficiently well and are physically attracted to. Then multiply that difficulty by four. Everybody has to click. Everybody has to be attracted to each other. It’s difficult.

After a bit of digging online, I found an attractive looking couple. All communications from them were very articulate and intelligent. They looked great. We decided to set up a meeting. When I called the number they provided, a very jovial man answered the phone with a heavy German accent. I already new his name, which was French, however I hadn’t assumed that he was actually European. We spoke briefly and happily, though with great difficulty. His English was good, but hard to understand over the phone. I explained that my wife and I had just been in Germany, and he was elated. They were both natives of Berlin. It seemed like it was meant to be. We’d certainly all get along famously, and fuck like rabbits. I was excited. My wife was optimistic, but only cautiously so. She can be such a realist at times that it’s kind of deflating. They lived about two hours north of us. So we made an appointment to meet them for dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours about an hour north of us. The place was called North Country Brewing. It was a brew pub, and it would be a perfect halfway point, geographically. The excellent food and craft-brewed beer would be a wonderful complement to an evening that would certainly end in gratifying, mind-bending depravity.

My wife and I showed up a little early and each had a beer on the front porch of the place while we waited for them. We didn’t have reservations, and the wait for a table was long. So we stood and drank and enjoyed the air. We’ve done enough of this sort of thing to not get bad nerves about it, but you still get some anxiety. We immediately identified them as they drove past to park their car. They were driving a giant Volkswagen, which seemed appropriate, albeit a little funny. As they got out of their vehicle and approached, they smiled and waved. Good people. They looked a little bigger than in their photos. Another interesting thing that we had learned during our trip to Germany was that when Germans switch to an American diet they tend to gain weight. Germans love to eat, and they do lots of it. American food is more heavily processed, and thus more calorie-dense. So when Germans try to eat American food the same way that they’d eat German food, they tend to gain weight. A burger is not a burger. Regardless, their weight-gain wasn’t prohibitive, at least not from my perspective. The female portion of the couple was still within my weight limit. She was tall, beautiful, and thoroughly Aryan. He looked a little heavy for my wife’s taste, but I was hopeful that his personality could sufficiently compensate. Sadly this quickly proved not to be the case.

I attribute most of the following dissonance to simple cultural differences, not his personal flaws. He was a wonderfully open and generous man. The ensuing experience was, however, about as consonant as fingers raked across a chalk board. His pink shirt was unbuttoned down to the top of his belly. I’m sure this was supposed to be some sign of his being a hedonist and sensual man of the flesh. However it just read as obnoxious and embarrassing, especially in the context of his lack of physical conditioning. Even if he’d been incredibly fit, it would have read as self-absorbed and crass. My wife was mortified. I could see how badly she wanted to simply button just two more of the buttons on his shirt. He also had grown a complex and immaculate goatee. My wife hates facial hair. I couldn’t necessarily fault him on that particular point, as I don’t see anything wrong with facial hair. It was undoubtedly another strike against him, though. It was also dusk, and he was still wearing sunglasses. This is yet another misstep. If it’s clearly not bright enough to necessitate the wearing of sunglasses, you shouldn’t be wearing them. It’s not something that I’ll hold against you, but my wife will. I could tell immediately that this wasn’t going to go the way I had hoped. So I resigned myself to the expectation that this would simply be a fascinating cultural experience. No, it wouldn’t be an experience. It would be revenge! I had just spent a week running around his country being analyzed and judged as an outsider. Now he was on my turf. Western PA, motherfucker! It was a like a little piece of Germany had made the mistake of following me home. I’m not usually one to be consumed with nationalistic fervor, but I felt possessed of the strength that comes from a home field advantage. I would silently damn and be judgmental, and I would enjoy every petty, malicious moment of it, even if the situation was a little embarrassing.

North Country Brewing is located on the campus of Slippery Rock University, so there is always an abundance of college kids around. We had to cut through an army of them to get to the bar. By the time we had fought our way back there, I had finished my first beer. I was ready to order a second, as was my wife. The Germans didn’t know what to make of the huge beer selection. They just couldn’t grasp the concept of all of it. I decided to let my wife flounder in her attempt at trying to explain the beer menu to him. I then walked off with his wife to get a better look at the menu. Her English was better than his, and she was a much more reserved person. She listened attentively as I explained all of the different styles of beer. I explained that if she preferred a more German-styled beer, they had a hefeweisen and a pilsner on the menu. There weren’t any lagers or alt-biers, and since it wasn’t quite October yet, they didn’t have the Octoberfest beer on tap. She was relieved and grateful for the explanation. This phenomenon would persist during the rest of the evening. She would listen and learn and be congenial. He would be defiant and try to be magnanimous. When we returned to my wife and her husband to see if they had made any progress, we learned that they hadn’t. He wanted “the homebrew,” and my wife was trying and failing to convince him that all of the beer on the menu was “the homebrew.” When I repeated this to him no differently than my wife had, he understood immediately. I suspect that he needed to hear it from a man before he could believe it. I provided him the same explanation of the beer styles, and made a selection. Unfortunately, he caught sight of one of the locals drinking from a fancy mug. People can pay a membership fee to the bar for a slightly larger mug that’s theirs exclusively and gets its own peg behind the bar. The membership mugs were fancy, and caught his eye. He wanted one, and I tried to explain how they worked. He didn’t believe me. He asked the bartender. The bartender was really busy trying to sling beers at the army of college kids at the bar, and he really didn’t have the time or patience to listen to this guy insist in broken English that he wanted a “membership mug.” All the while servers were rushing into and out of the kitchen behind the bar, carrying trays heavy with food and beer. He was unapologetically standing in the way. They careened around him angrily, and I, my wife, and his own wife all tried our best to coax him away from his quest for a “membership mug.” Eventually we got him to give up and simply drink from a pint glass like the rest of us. We also got him to retreat with us to a waiting area that was relatively unoccupied. I’m sure the bartender and servers were appreciative. We talked. The conversation was awesome and sprawled all over all sorts of interesting subjects. I had completely surrendered any of my earlier hopes of getting laid, so I just turned it into an interview. I pelted this motherfucker with questions about Germany, and I hid barbs in my questions that I knew he wouldn’t detect. My wife chuckled at this, and his wife seemed politely oblivious. He explained that I was wearing too many clothes, and if we had gone to a good sex club in Berlin they wouldn’t have admitted me on that account. I took note, with more than a little regret that my wife and I hadn’t encountered any such establishments while in Berlin. We mentioned our time in Amsterdam, and he promptly launched into a dissertation on all of the drugs he enjoys. I do always enjoy listening to people speak passionately about something they really enjoy. It was a nice little relief from his unrelenting egoism. We talked about food and beer and public transportation. It was all very funny, and eventually our table was ready.

Getting seated was hilarious and painful. They sat us at a table right beside an air vent. My wife and I sat on one side of the table. He and his wife sat on the other. Previous to this date, his wife had promised to show up without panties. She was wearing a dress, and had apparently made good on her promise. She also had the misfortune of picking the seat right over the air vent. To my chagrin, her dress didn’t billow up like Marilyn Monroe’s. However, once she sat down, the draft was understandably too much for her to tolerate. It was the only pleasantly sexual moment of the evening. I would have loved to have fucked her. She asked her husband switch her seats. He did this, and asked if she was still cold. She said that she was, slightly, and he offered her his shirt, thankfully in jest. He pantomimed ripping it off, and we both cringed and laughed politely. When the waitress arrived, he pre-empted any formalities by asking if they could turn off the air vents. She explained that they couldn’t, and suggested just dropping any extra menu on the vent. A great idea! He just wouldn’t have it though. I guess it was too hackneyed and imperfect a solution to the problem. He asked if we could get a different table. We had already waited about an hour for this one table to open up, and he really thought that they’d be able to just move us to another one at a whim? Fucking ridiculous. My wife and I were embarrassed. The waitress conceded to “see what she could do.” Then when she asked what beers we’d like, since all of us had finished our previous ones, he revisited both the debate about wanting “the homebrew” and the membership mug. My wife had begun mouthing silent apologies to the waitress, which she said the girl saw and acknowledged. When she returned with our beers, she moved us to another table without an air vent. We all ordered food. The conversation proceeded painfully, and further interactions between the Germans and the staff at North Country brewing were mercifully minimal and brief. The food was incredible, as always. It provided a much-appreciated excuse for diminished conversation while we all ate. We got separate checks, and my wife and I did our best to tip very heavily as compensation to our server. It is our favorite restaurant, and we really hope to go eat there again one day. It seemed like the Germans knew that sex, or any further interactions, were out of the question. We walked down to the door with them and wished them a good evening. We smiled, hugged them, thanked them for a wonderful evening and bid them a safe journey home. When my wife and I reached the car we burst into cacophonous laughter that didn’t cease until we got home. The experience was so bracing and funny that the disappointment at the lack of an orgy was totally painless.

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