Flashing: Memoir

Monday, March 23, 2009

Welcome to the first day of Flashing, where I’ll be telling different variations of the same story every Monday through Friday for a full year. I’ll be playing with the genre, form, and overall narrative structure in order to experiment how a story twists and turns while keeping the same basic plot and thematic elements. Every story will be under 1000 words. Some will be much, much shorter.

I decided to start with memoir for several reasons. First of all, it makes for a nice thematic sequel to my last year-long writing experiment, The Moose In The Closet. Second, it’s kind of fun to take one of my own stories and turn it into 259 different stories, primarily fictions. Finally, it’s easy to make some fantastic story with all the necessary thematic elements and plenty of potential jumping off points but it’s another thing entirely to take an everyday story from a normal life and try to fit it into sci-fi and spi-fi and steampunk and biography and obituary and twitter feed and 259 other variations. I like the challenge of doing it this way.

That’s enough set-up. I hope you enjoy what I’m trying to do here and that you tell folks about it. Feel free to offer up critiques, this is a public writing experiment designed to help me grow as a writer. So any feedback would be much appreciated.

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Salvaging Munich (1,000 words)

In 2008 I went to Munich as part of a US delegation taking part in a NATO working group. The meetings started on Monday and the delegation was getting in on Sunday. Since I’ve never been to Germany I left a day early to enjoy an extra day of site seeing and drinking.

I never had the real overseas adventure. I started my career three days after college and didn’t do the European backpacking thing that’s popular with recent grads. I had only been to Europe twice at that point – once to London and once to Spain, both trips with Robin. For the latter trip I was meeting Robin in Madrid. She lived there for over a month while finishing her Spanish minor.

I was jealous of Robin’s time in Spain. I’m the kind of person who always jumps from one commitment to the next. When high-school was over I worked full-time over the summer to get book money. In college I worked evenings at the dining hall to get weekend money. When college was over I didn’t feel like I had the time or money for travel and relaxation. My father instilled a work ethic in me that has gotten me incredibly far, but I have to admit I missed out on a few experiences.

I was going to try and make up for some of my missed opportunities during a single half-week trip to Germany. I promised myself that I’d stop short of nothing and deal with the consequences later.

I took an evening flight out of Dulles on Friday and landed in Munich on Saturday morning. I rarely sleep on planes. I usually just close my eyes and pretend. This trip was no different. By the time I got to Germany I was beat.

I took a cab to the hotel and decided against a nap. I had site seeing to do, after all, and a lot of things closed at five. I got some coffee and went out into the city. I visited Marienplatz and Frauenkirche and every beir haus I passed along the way. I ate weisswurst and pretzels and sampled local cuisines from outdoor markets. Several hours later I was ready for a nap. I went back to the hotel and laid my head down by 4:30. My alarm was set for 7:30.

I woke up just shy of midnight.

When I first saw my clock I was depressed. This was my only commitment-free night in Germany and I missed dinner. I missed drinking. I missed debauchery. I looked outside my hotel window and the city seemed dead. It was almost midnight, I had no idea where to go, and I thought it was impossible to have a good night out at this point.

I sulked for a little while but hunger got the best of me eventually. I had to go out and find some food. I went south, towards Münchner Freiheit, assuming something would be open down there. The walk down Leopoldstraße was cold, dark, and lonely. Everything was closed. The night was feeling hopeless and lost. Then I heard a noise.

It was a bus, ripping down the road while blasting techno music. It had a disco ball hanging from the ceiling and was packed with guys and girls dressed for a night out. The bus was going the same way I was going and that was a very good thing. By the time I got to Schwabing I saw three of those buses and had a renewed sense of hope for the evening.

After grabbing a bite to eat I looked for a bar to start my night in. I found a place that was loud and crowded and smoky.

Munich recently enacted an indoor smoking ban. The way bars got around this was to become a smoking club and charge a euro for a lifetime membership. It took the bartender about five minutes to explain this to me since she didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of German. It was frustrating, but it was a sign that I was throwing myself into the city. I didn’t go to some American place; I went to a true German bar.

I ended up meeting some English speakers; two Germans that were planning a trip to America. They taught me some German and I helped them with their English. As more people piled into the bar a small posse began to form around us consisting of customers, bartenders, and even some tourists. We laughed and drank all night, buying drinks for each other and making plans for the next evening. By the time I left the bar it was 6AM and the sun was out. I went back to my hotel and slept until early afternoon.

The next evening I met up with some people from the previous night. We went to a karaoke bar. I sang James Brown and the Beatles and stayed out for several hours. It wasn’t the same this time, however, and several of the patrons even directed sarcastic “Go USA” and “God Bless Bush” remarks towards me. It left an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. The next couple of nights I went out with the US delegation. We went to Hofbräuhaus and spent the late evenings at the hotel bar. It was the typical American experience in Germany and I was fine with it by that point.

I guess I’m just old. Not in a bad way – in a “life’s good” kind of way. I managed to scrounge together one fun and adventurous evening but afterwards I went back to a safe zone. The European experience is fine when you’re 22 and don’t have a job yet. But I have the career, the wonderful woman at home, and a great time on a day-to-day basis back in the States. Maybe I missed out on something at some point in my life, but I realized I didn’t really need it anymore.

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