A Misplaced Future
At some point when you go on a trip to another country you will inevitably perform an act so stupid the humiliation prevents you from telling the tale to even your closest friends. Yet, believe it or not, there exists a further level of dumb. That act of stupidity that demonstrates a mind fully incapable of performing even the simplest routines of daily life. It proves the existence of a cerebrum so inadequate that you have to be grateful it is not responsible for involuntary functions like breathing or your life would have ended long ago. A story that is told more as a form of confession or therapy.
This is one of those stories:
I arrived in London accompanied by sleep deprivation after spending an entire night in the Calais, France border customs office with the agent who demonstrated an immediate and irrational hatred of me and stared at my passport as though it were encrypted, translated into Sanskrit cuneiform, pulverized in a blender, and then pieced back together by a near-sighted walrus.
By the time I arrived at the Queen's Hotel - a rather grandiose name for a typical, no frills, cheap night's lodging - where I got the room next to the Jamaican man who never quit speaking or singing at a decibel level normally reserved for a Blue Angels air show or atomic bomb detonation.
I dragged myself into the room and threw my money belt containing my cash, passport, social security card, driver's license, birth certificate, debit card, complete DNA profile, names and SS#'s of all my friends and family, and a signed confession to numerous crimes and misdemeanours I kept thinking I should get rid of but never did under the mattress. Because, as we all know, should a criminal ransack a hotel room, the space under the mattress is a virtually impenetrable fortress where they will never think to look.
Following a couple of hours of inability to sleep due to the singing and unintelligible yelling coming from the next room - unintelligible because the human inner ear has yet to develop the capacity to translate sounds of that volume into recognizable speech patterns - I gave up my dream of sleep. I flipped on the light and . . . nothing. I carried on this pattern of flipping on switches and getting no response long past the point that the scientific method considers reasonable before accepting failure. Maintenance was called and the problem not fixed. As luck would have it, there was one room left available, two doors down. On the other side of Mr Reggae. Oh well.
The next morning I got up early to get to London to catch a bus to Mildenhall. I gathered my things, double checked under the mattress, and left for the train station. Within the hour I had boarded my train and found myself enroute. Only then did I think to wonder, "Why don't I remember getting my money belt this morning?" A panicked search through my backpack and body ensued and failed to relieve the panic.
Until you find yourself passportless and money free, sans any form of ID in another country, it is difficult to fully comprehend the feeling. Observing someone who has just done so, however, should present you with a pretty good grasp.
Imagine you're on a train and you witness a woman freaking out and haphazardly tossing shirts and underwear around the train car. This is followed by bursts of profanity, intermittent with more pointless clawing through previously thrown clothing and more profanity. At one point she more or less dives into her backpack like a caver who has realized she left her newborn somewhere back in the cave, then popping back out again screaming more profanity.
The hysterical lunatic then grabs her stuff and stands by the door, verbally begging it to open so she can jump out. Once the train arrives at the next stop she dives out, dashing down the street into a storm, which apparently felt this was a good opportunity to have a little fun at the woman's expense.
Up steep hills the woman runs with 40 pounds on her back and her phone displaying Google Maps held out in front of her like a beacon. At mile one of the relentless incline she trips over a crack in the sidewalk and falls headlong into a perfectly placed, rather cliche', giant puddle. She curses at the laughter as she runs on, too focused to turn to see if the laughter comes from startled bystanders, the storm, or the vengeful puddle itself.
Finally, the bedraggled, sodden creature makes its way back to the Queen's Hotel and explains the situation to the staff who are too shocked by its frightening appearance to fully comprehend the rambling words spewing from her mud-splattered face. At last, they successfully divine enough to take her to her room, which has yet to be cleaned and her panic begins to abate. She raises the mattress and . . . nothing. Stunned for a moment she stands and stares at the empty space where a money belt should be. She spins around hopelessly a couple of times, seeing nothing. More panic than before, followed by resignation.
Defeated, she trudges out of the room, wondering in Dickenesque fashion if the poor houses are still in full vigor and how to get to one. What was she going to do? She possessed no knowledge or experience to prepare her for homelessness in London. In America all you need is a piece of cardboard and a Sharpee. Europe's beggars were musicians, artists, dancers, and street performers of vast and diverse entrepreneurial spirit and imagination. They played harps in subways and levitated above sidewalks outside castles. She had played the roll of a tree once in a grade school play, but how far was that going to get her in this new life?
As she strains to remember the recipe for making a paper mache tree costume, one tiny brain cell, silent for the past 24 hours, comes to life.
"The other room," it says.
"What are you jabbering about?" the angry, pathetic, vaguely humanoid primate mutters back.
"You switched rooms," the brain cell answers calmly.
"I switched rooms!" the woman yells at the terrified hotel employee. "Other room. Switched. Other room I had. Room. Other. Different," she manages as she attempts to crawl back from the mental precipice.
Through a series of grunts and primitive hand gestures she gets the staff to open the other room, where she plunges under the mattress like a starving wolverine after a rabbit. She roots around a while, then comes out the other side holding aloft her lost identity like a trophy, laughing hysterically.
More brain cells begin to fire and she is eventually able to thank the hotel staff and carry on. Head held high, given a second chance at life, she marches victorious back into the rain, staring straight ahead into a brighter future. Unfortunately, the crack in the sidewalk is down at her feet so she trips over it again and slides butt first the rest of the way into this future.