By Paul McGuire © 2007
Brain dead. Deep into the sixth day of a foggy bender, I had forgotten the day of the week.
I'd successfully lost time. The demoralizing result was that my conversational skills had dwindled down to a few muttering sentences. I walked around the city like a zombie, one of those aimlessly wandering hashheads that the locals curse at after smashing into them in the bicycle lanes.
I left the milky blue curtains in my bedroom open before I passed out. The sunlight forced me to wake up an hour or so earlier. The sounds of church bells greeted me as I climbed the stairs to the attic and stepped through the sliding glass door onto the roof. I sat on a wooden chair and lost myself as I stared out at the other roofs. That's been the first thing I have done every morning, rain or shine.
The local weather reminds me of Seattle... scattered clouds with the chance of precipitation at any moment. Sometimes it's sunny on one block and raining on the next one. There are times when you can feel the hotness of summer. Then when you least expect it, a bitter wind which makes my nose itch whips off of the canals. Some people are dressed for summer. Others are prepared for winter.
I struggled through Dharma Bums during the morning roof reading sessions. After reading the majority of it in one sitting, I labored through about ten or so pages a day. I'd have to go back and read the previous three or four to figure out what the hell Kerouac was rambling about before I'd slowly make my way through his feast of words. With that book done, I moved onto the next one... Whatever.
Benjo gave me two English translations of books by Michel Houellebecq, a contemporary French writer. There's a copy of his third book on the bookshelf in the living room, left behind by a previous tenant. Maybe I can read some of that before I leave for Barcelona.
Whatever is a short and quick read and was originally titled "Extension of the Domain of the Struggle." Some of Houellebecq's chapters are a mere six paragraphs long. In the first chapter, his main character (an uninspired and angry thirty-something engineer who can't get laid) gets drunk at a party and pukes on someone's couch. He forgot where he parked and returned the next day and could still not find the car. Instead of searching some more, he told the police his car had been stolen.
I enjoyed the morning breeze and read before I descended the spiral staircase to the kitchen to write. The apartment is quiet before my roommates wake up, watch DVDs, and start playing online poker. I opened up the windows to let out all the stuffy air from Benjo's cigarettes and all the blunt leftovers from the night before. I wiped the table clean which was cluttered by empty water bottles, a jar of Nutella, dirty silverware, a thin layer of ashes, used baggies, a deck of Paris casino cards, a pile of Euro coins, bits of torn up rolling papers, and flakes of crust from croissants.
Outside on the street below, the procession of Sunday morning tourists slowly trickled past our building as the sound of a motor boat in the canal almost drowned out a British couple arguing about the proper way to get to the Anne Frank house. An American woman joked at the window hookers across the street as a group of six people on rented yellow bicycles whizzed by. One lonely guy with that sex-starved gleam in his eye quickly passed our building while looking for the next side street with more hookers.
I wrote for ninety minutes. Then I was wired... on a creative high.
My original plan for this August was to move to Amsterdam for three weeks and write. That never happened. I had to cut my holiday short by a week for a work assignment in Barcelona in addition to a ten-day assignment in London. The entire mentality of the trip shifted. Instead of delving into new writing projects, I spent the first week partying... all the time.
Every waking hour I alternated in a deviant cycle between drinking Belgian beers in bars and getting hammered in coffeeshops. During those late nights, I trolled the red light district at 2 am with Benjo admiring the never-ending freak show while drinking in seedy bars filled with groups of sweaty, horny tourists. And when I wasn't running rampant through the streets, I retreated to the slanted room on the top floor of our canal apartment, where slept almost six hours a night in a comfortable bed.
The bender has been a week long, which meant that it was time to slow down. I implemented a more disciplined schedule to squeeze in couple hours of work every morning. The Sunday morning writing session in the kitchen was the most intense since I had been here. I also uploaded a slew of photos and made a list of things to do before I went to Sweden on Monday. I also had forgotten about a column that was due on Thursday. I'm glad I realized now before it was too late.
I wandered outside and found Siberia just up the street off the Signel canal. The doors to the coffeeshop were open upon my arrival. The empty coffeeshop blasted Thelonius Monk and I felt that it was a fitting soundtrack for the day. I had been listening John Coltrane and Monk while I wrote in the kitchen only five minutes earlier.
I found a spot up front at a table looking out to the canal. I smoked and read Michel Houellebecq. I added more things to my to do list and jotted down some thoughts. I'm usually an avid note taker but I abandoned my pad for a week. I had a pen and paper on me at all times, but that was used to keep a running tally of our three-way Chinese Poker match, which we played sporadically throughout the day over the past week or so. I made a promise to myself to take more notes.
More tourists walked past the coffeeshop, carrying suitcases with wheels that rumbled behind them and made loud clapping sounds against the cobblestones of the streets. A Dutch family of four across the canal loaded up their car for a drive out to the country. I read a little more before a wave of inspiration hit me. I was hungry and had a list of items to buy at the market, but skipped that. Instead, I rushed home past the window hookers so I could write. My roommates were still sleeping and I went into to the kitchen to write. I fired up iTunes and listened to Jerry Garcia and David Grisman perform an acoustic cover version of Miles Davis' So What.
I opened up my note pad and looked at the initial two words that I scribbled down. Brain dead.
Paul McGuire is a writer originally from New York City.