Frantic. Crazy. American.
By Daniel Landes
Imagine my surprise when I first saw the I am American tattoo across my forehead. Ori, an Israeli guy I met in Amsterdam, pointed it out. There it was, a garish tattoo, reflected off the glass of a storefront window. Behind the glass was a lone woman in lingerie; tits pushed together, her thin lips coated in pink glossy lipstick. She was running a large brush through her hair.
“What are you 22 years old?” Ori asked. “I’m surprised you never noticed it before.” “Yeah me too,” I said rubbing my forehead. Ori was leaning against the glass looking out toward the street smoking a cigarette. “Your nationality is overt,” he said. We had been ‘window shopping’ in the red light district that afternoon. “All day you’ve been wanting to go in for a shag. You want to go in so badly. But you won’t let yourself. You are so American.” He was right about me wanting to go visit the women behind the glass and that I probably wouldn’t. Shit, I thought, I am so American.
“Let’s go get a coffee and have smoke,” Ori said. I looked back at the woman behind the glass as we walked away. She blew me a kiss. “I think I should go back to that one,” I said, “We share some sort of connection.” Ori laughed. “Okay go do it,” He said. “Nah, let’s go have a smoke. I’ll come back later.” I said.
My libido, which had been pounding in my head like a caged ape all afternoon, decreased in intensity the moment we left the red light district. Women, who don’t fuck for money, were walking down the street, just normal like. Ori walked with a confident stride. He had just finished with his two-year mandatory military duty for the state of Israel. He was in Europe to party and try to ‘forget about all that bullshit’. We were sharing a room in a hostel near the red light district. Our room smelled like a dirty mop head. It was my first time out of the US and I felt like a wide-eyed, rubbernecked, bumpkin gawking at everything I saw; like the scantily clad women behind glass selling their sex. Ori was a big, handsome guy who knew how to handle himself. He was worldly. I bounded at his heels like a little dog looking for this big dogs approval.
We ducked into a quiet coffee shop where Ori ordered a gram of yellow hash, two Café Americanos and mineral water. He started rolling the hash into long, thin sticks and laid them across tobacco and rolled it all up. “What does it mean to you to be an American?” He asked as he lifted a flame up and lit the spliff. He exhaled a great plume of smoke over my head. The guy behind the counter came by and dropped off our coffees.
Ori sat with the spliff for a while, taking a puff, holding it, and then exhaling these giant plumes of smoke. When I hit it, I coughed out a weak cloud of smoke.
“I haven’t thought about it too much.” I said. “This is my first time out of the States and I have to say I feel a bit like a lost puppy dog.” I took another drag and began to feel anxiety as the THC entered my blood stream. Often I get self-conscious when I’m high and clam up or freak out and have to leave but Ori put me at ease so I pulled my feet up on to the booth and released another weak plume of smoke; suppressing a cough.
Looking out the window at the steady stream of bicycles passing by I hit the spliff again. The bikers morphed out of focus as they passed the beads of moisture that were accumulating on the window as a fog rolled in “That’s not true,” I said to Ori, “I have thought about what it means to be an American quite a bit, but I haven’t felt comfortable expressing how I feel.”
“Why not?” asked Ori.
“It’s like telling people you don’t like sports or don’t eat meat. People aren’t interested in hearing about it. I mean, complaining about America is like complaining about your parents. You end up just sounding whiny and ungrateful. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I’m a lucky to be born in the mouth of the wolf and all, but I’m also feeling very critical at the moment.”
“The mouth of the wolf?” Ori repeated.
“Sure, the mouth of the wolf, where the fuckin’ teeth are. My nation is always at war. We are warriors.”
“My nation is no different.” Ori said.
“I was never in the military like you, but I have blood on my hands all the same. The food I eat and the bed I sleep in are the spoils of war. The land I call home was taken from Native people by treachery. A large portion of the infrastructure of my nation is built with forced and slave labor. It’s not so different than any other nation I guess, but I think it is important to at least acknowledge our brutal past. Once I began to acknowledge our true history I’ve found it very difficult to be prideful in America. I don’t even feel compelled to talk about the good parts. There is plenty of that chatter going around already.”
Ori stirred sugar cubes into his coffee. “Our nations are a lot a like, it’s perhaps why we are such close allies. But really what does being American mean to you? I am curious.”
“Why are you so curious?” I asked. Ori looked out the window. It grew darker as the fog thickened. The amber glow from the streetlight outside was captured inside the dewdrops that clung to the window like little beads of sap. They collected together and when they got heavy enough they ran down the window in beautiful streaks. “I just spent two-years of my life training to defend my country. To kill for my country. I strung razor wire and defended an ever-expanding border from a people that used to call my country home. My ‘enemies’.” The air in room felt heavy. “I feel corrupted by deep lies of Israeli exceptionalism. I feel brainwashed. Manipulated by our national mythology. Do you? Do you believe the lies your country tells you?”
“Damn Ori. If you want jump into the deep end I need to switch from coffee to beer.” Ori began rolling another spliff. His brow was furrowed.
“Answer my question,” He said. “What does it mean to you to be an American?”
I was stoned. The coffee was bitter. I got up and ordered a beer. Sitting back down, I put my elbows on the table and looked right into Ori’s eyes. “Look man,” I said, “I am the spoiled child of the most notorious crime family in history. I’m a viscous baby. A werewolf in diapers. I am the Auspicious One destroying with fire and bullets and planting ugly seeds in the burnt and bloody earth. I’m reaping mutated fruit that tastes like nothing but pithy lackluster plastic. I’m a goddam Pilgrim, a Yankee, a Confederate, a Texas Ranger, a Chemist, a Pusher, a Twisted Psychologist and a Fake Doctor. I’m a mad fucking scientist, a super villain hell bent on world domination. I am the Apathetic One. I don’t give a fuck about anything but my ham sandwich. Don’t touch my ham sandwich or I’ll blow you into smithereens.”
Ori looked at me, eyes wide. “Jesus man, you are stoned.”
“Yes, and I’m super hungry. Let’s go eat.” I said. The fog was rolling away as the sun returned and began evaporating the moisture from the window. “No you go on,” Ori said, “I’m going to get back to the hostel. I’m awaiting a phone call from my mother.”
We departed. I was too stoned to navigate food or beer so I hopped on my bicycle and began to ride around the canals. Melding into the river of bikers I flowed along with them with no destination in mind. When I reached the outskirts of the city the bike herd began to thin until there were only a few of us left. The road opened up into suburban neighborhoods. While in the commercial areas of the city I felt comfortable but once I got to the outskirts of town, amongst the residences I felt out of place and immediately lonely. There are families that live here. My family is far away. I am alone.
Up ahead a woman was riding her bike along the road. She had inadvertently tucked her grey wool skirt into the top of her panties exposing most of her buttocks and the silky whiteness of her underwear. I peddled hard to get closer to her. She rode fast and effortlessly. Her blond hair flowed behind her. She had on a white blouse. As I got closer I noticed she had on nylon stockings. The nylons pressed the ruffles of her panties flat. The seam of her nylons ran between her ass cheeks splitting them into two perfect hemispheres. Standing up on the pedals I pumped hard to keep up.
She rounded a corner and pulled her bike into a bike rack outside a small neighborhood market. I parked my bike just out of sight. As she got off her bike she realized the state of her skirt. Untucking it she pressed it flat against her thighs and ass. She bent over to lock her bike against the rack. I stared from a distance. My mind raced through scenarios in which I may engage her in conversation. Each scenario ended with me undressing her. My libido, the caged ape, began to pound between my temples again. She entered the market. I followed. Although the store was small I kept a distance between us. Her cheeks were rosy from exercise and her eyes piercing blue. I felt like a puppy dog. A few more people entered the store. I stood next to her as she pulled a bottle of water from the fridge. She smelled of salt water and roses.
Stuck in my throat was the word I wanted to speak to her. Just one word. Hello. It wouldn’t come out. She stood behind an elderly man with smoke grey hair and waited to pay. I stood behind her and inhaled her scent deeply. The ape pounded harder and harder against the cage. My plan was to talk to her once we got outside.
I said nothing to her. As I unlocked my bike my inner voice said ‘you are super creepy.’ It’s true.
When I returned to the hostel Ori was sitting at a long table in the lobby with four or five other travelers. There was hash, weed, loose tobacco and about a dozen Heineken bottles in front of the group.
“Ori I need to talk to you.” I said franticly. The group looked up at me. I looked away.
“What’s up man?” Ori asked “You look like a fucking crazy person.” The group laughed. “You are driving yourself mad. Just go and do what you want to do. Go back to the red light district and fuck.”
Embarrassment washed over me. I knew Ori was 100% right though.
“I’m going,” I announced. “I’m going to do it.” I walked out the door toward the red light district.
I walked for hours in the red light district that night. Frantic. Crazy. American.