Dear Lenny and Bekka,
We're in Berlin. Sorry I haven't written for a while. I was kinda busy.
Hamburg RULED. We were there for five days, and I could stay for another ten. Oh my god, everything I'd heard about what a rager of a town Hamburg is turned out to be true. I'd told Vito that I wanted to do some serious partying in Hamburg, like out-all-night partying, and would probably be going to places with music he would hate. He told me to stay safe, and turned me loose to do anything I wanted, all day and all night. Oh shit, I did.
Urban centers in Germany seem to be (mercifully) English-bilingual towns, more or less. I never had much trouble finding someone who spoke passable English. After we checked into our hotel we did a bit of strolling in the area. I found an indie-style record shop about seven blocks from the hotel, and did more shopping (watch for a package). I struck up a conversation with a guy at the counter who was wearing a Meatmen t-shirt. Once again, the words "I'm from California" worked like a magic spell. It was a little crazy the way this guy's eyes lit up when I confirmed that yes, I surf. (I left off the rest of the statement: "... very badly.") He wants to visit LA, SF, and Seattle, all for the music scenes. We talked a little bit, and I asked about live hardcore shows in the next five days. I was told, "Oh, a slow week, only three." Wow. "There are still the raves, and the clubs, and the parties, and the beer halls." Where should I start? Remember, I have never been in Hamburg, I don't have a car, and I don't speak German. For reference sake, this guy is about Lenny's height, but looks like he weighs ninety pounds soaking wet. He has thick round glasses, a septum piercing, and Johnny Rotten hair dyed purple. And an Adam's apple the size of a baseball. He's maybe twenty. I'd heard the phrase "tall and gangling" before, now I truly understood it. He tells me, "If you wish, I can show you around at night, I know many spots. I even have a car."
I'm sure he was lusting after me, but that didn't matter, I could have taken him with a butter knife. I accepted his offer, to his undying joy. He told me to be back at the record shop at eight, we would go from there. I offered to buy him dinner, which he accepted, explaining our first stop would be a beer garden, for beer and food. Then I could name any style of music or social scene I liked, and he would guide us to the right spots. He said it didn't matter what day of the week it was, there was always something happening. I admit, I set the hook in this guy, by grabbing his head and giving him a big kiss on the cheek as I was leaving. Possibly the high point of his week.
As we walked back to the hotel, I told Vito I would probably be out very late every night we were in Hamburg, and would be eating dinner with my new friend Gruber. He chuckled and said he knew I would want to party now that we were in big city, he wouldn't wait up. When we got in our room, he gave me a big wad of Deutschmarks, which he told me was the American equivalent of about $2000. "Go set the town on fire" were his instructions.
I was at the record shop at eight. Gruber came out wearing a trenchcoat and a bowler hat, and we walked to where his car was. He has a Trabant. They're about the size of a Nash Metropolitan, and have the horsepower of a sewing machine. And they break down. Gruber was aware of what a shitbox he drove, and told a joke. All over Germany, in all cities, you will be fined heavily for spitting out chewing gum into the street. The gum causes massive traffic jams. A Trabant will get stuck on the gum, and be unable to move again. (Okay, you never hear about great German comedy, but at least he tried.)
The beer garden was a trip. First of all, we ordered.... beer. I didn't catch the name. All I know is it came in a glass about eighteen inches tall and had a lemon slice on the rim. It was a good quart of beer, at least. Gruber finished his while I was less than halfway though mine, I was just happy that it was some sort of lager, not anything dark or high-powered. We got plates of sausages and potatoes with kraut. Big plates. Heaping with food. I stared at mine, and looked around at other diners, and they were not leaving any scraps behind. Sure, there's always the caricature of a fat German, but if this is a normal diet, I don't see how any German is under four hundred pounds. I finished about half my plate. It was great food, I have to research German styles of sausage, but I was stuffed. And Gruber is waving for another round of beers, his third, my second. I suspect a trans-dimensional portal is inside Gruber, which whisks away any food he eats. It's the only way he could be so skinny.
When we left, Gruber asked me what kind of music I would enjoy first. "Um, punk rock or hardcore." No problem, he says there's a live gig happening at a squat, and it should get going in another hour. This will leave us time to have more beer. I asked about marijuana, or maybe Ecstasy. He chuckled and patted his hand on my arm. "Whatever you want will be available at the squat. Marijuana, Ecstasy, crystal, cocaine, heroin, mescaline, Quaaludes, anything. I will take you to the dealer's hall, as many may not understand English. And un-escorted, some may think you wish to use your body to barter for what you want."
There was a pub-like bar across the street from the squat, which we went into for.... More beer. A weird mix of people inside, it was like half punks and half craggy old men Vito's age. For some reason, Tahitian music was being played. We got more giant beers with lemons. I don't know if these glasses are a standard size or not, they look like they are, but I have no idea how much beer is there. I have simply named them "Metric Ass-load." While we drank, a couple of the punks came over to say hi to Gruber. He introduced me, sort of. They spoke no English at all, so Gruber simply introduced me as Jane, I shook hands with the two, then Gruber began explaining who I was. Whatever he told them, I had a two-member fan club by the time he was done. I did catch a little. Gruber said, "Something something California!" The punks looked amazed, replying, "Something something something California? Something something!" And a few moments later I heard "Something something surf!" "Something surf something? Something!" The punks shifted position slightly, so they could more easily grin wordlessly at me.
We went into the squat. It was a free show, bands had cassettes for sale. Lenny, I know you know a bit about European squats. Holy shit. This had been some sort of factory, and the squatters had massively altered the inside, adding rooms, lofts, a stage, balconies.... All seemingly constructed out of wood stolen from a Home Depot dumpster. Impressive and ambitious artwork was painted on the walls. Somebody took it upon themselves to render H.R. Giger's "Penis Landscape" over an area the size of a Buick. I was surprised, there was almost no graffiti. Gruber said we should visit the drug hall now, before it got too crowded, and also before thieving junkies started working the crowd. He led me up to another level and into a large room. Oh my god. The dealers had all set up card tables and folding chairs to hawk their wares. If there had been ladies selling cupcakes and fruit punch, it would have looked like hell's own church rummage sale.
We browsed from table to table, Gruber telling me what was available at each. There was plenty of hash, but only one guy had marijuana, and it smelled like it was worse than Mexican. Gruber located Ecstasy. I looked on the table, and holy shit, this dealer has hits of Smiley. I asked how much. Gruber and the dealer went back and forth a bit. Gruber finally told me, "He asks sixty-five Deutschmarks. This is a very high price, it is imported from America. He feels you may not have enough money, and says the others are only twenty Deutschmarks. And he wants to know how you recognize this type of Ecstasy."
I told Gruber to explain that Smiley is common in California, where it costs the US equivalent of (I whipped out my calculator) thirty-seven Deutschmarks. At home, I take Smiley every weekend, so I am familiar with it. And I do have the money for Smiley, I want two, one for each of us.
Gruber's jaw dropped and he stared at me. Then he relayed the message to the dealer. The dealer also stared at me, then they had a little exchange where I again caught "California?" "California!" (Surfing was not mentioned, apparently.) Gruber finally says to me, "He says, if you insist. He has never sold Smiley to a punk before, only the rich, the elite, will pay such a price for the drug. He is surprised you want two."
I told Gruber, yeah, one for each of us. You bought the beer so far tonight, it's only fair. Gruber did more of his open-mouth staring at me. I turned and counted out some Deutschmarks, and paid the dealer. He shrugged, gave me my change, and handed over two hits, each in their individual seal. I opened them both and handed one to Gruber, who stared at it in his hand. I dry-swallowed mine, and gestured for him to do the same. He did, but he still looked kind of surprised. The dealer tapped Gruber and said something. Gruber asked me if I was rich. I thought about it, and had to honestly answer "yes." (Um, by the way? That $10K in traveler's checks you sent with me? It's barely been touched. Every time I go to pay for something, Vito does a fast-draw routine with his wallet and pushes in front of me at the register.) Gruber and the dealer talked more (including another "California?" "California!" exchange), then Gruber turned to me and said, "This man says he wishes to marry you. He says if you marry him and take him to California, he will learn English and lead an honest life. And he will be faithful."
I cracked up at this. I instructed Gruber to tell him there were many, many flaws in his idea, not the least of which was I am still legally a minor in the US, and unable to marry anyone. Gruber relayed the message, and the dealer seriously pouted, staring at his table. Then he said something else. Gruber asked me, "He wishes to know if you have ever driven a car in Los Angeles." I said yes, many times. This was relayed, and the dealer's eyes got big. He spoke again. Gruber said, "He wishes to congratulate you on your bravery and fortitude. He believes you to be fearless." At some point, I have GOT to find out just what people in Europe think LA driving is like. Apparently it's not good.
Heading back down, Gruber thanked me profusely for the hit of Ecstasy. He had heard rumors of it, but had never seen Smiley until tonight. He figured he would never try it, being unable to justify spending that much money on a single dose of a drug.... If he was lucky to come across it at all. I told him it was a truly unique experience, and I hoped he enjoyed himself. The Smiley would give us the stamina and willingness to party all night, if we wished. Gruber told me he would sometimes buy crystal (meth) to keep going all weekend. And was Smiley truly common in California? I said yes, California is where Smiley is made. I pointed out that German cars are common and run of the mill in Germany, but luxury items in the US. So it went with Smiley here in Germany, it is a luxury item.
The first band was setting up. There must have been 400 people in the "room." Lenny, German punks make British street punks look like yuppies. I think it's the facial piercings: not only will German punks have a lot, they get them done in gauges the thickness of a drinking straw. I hoped many of these people never planned on traveling by airplane, as they would make merry hell going through the airport metal detectors. Most everybody has variants of the standard hardcore leathers, like ours, but instead of artwork or band logos, there seems to be a fashion for painting slogans on them, just short blocks of text. I asked Gruber to translate some of them, and he just rolled his eyes and shook his head. "It is all anarchist or socialist bullshit," he replied. "The slogans show the bearer has a child's grasp of how the world works." Oh. Okay then.
More people, not all punks, came up to greet Gruber. I would again be introduced ("California?" "California!" "Surf?" "Surf!") and shake hands with people who just wanted to briefly stand there and stare at me, with huge smiles on their faces. A rare Wild Californian was spotted in Hamburg today.... Anyway, the show started. These bands must be congratulated for trying to do something different with a hardcore sound. One band had keyboards, and fairly poppy-sounding ones. Another had these big metal percussive things on stage, giving them an industrial sound. Another band had one guitarist and three bass players. I stayed out of the pit. There didn't seem to be the macho swaggering and violence you see in pits in the US, but this pit seemed to be the domain of Really Huge Guys. They seriously blocked the view of the stage. After the third band Gruber said he was going to get.... more beer, and for me to hang out at the merchandise tables for a few. I bought tapes from every band. When Gruber returned, he was carrying two Metric Ass-load glasses from the bar across the street. I'd assumed he was going to get a six-pack from someplace. I asked him if he had just walked out with the bar's glasses. He looked confused and said, "Yes? We shall return them." And we did.
Oh, and Gruber was in heaven. Apparently Smiley was even better than rumor had suggested. He had a goofy smile on his face, and would constantly bounce up and down on the balls of his feet. I asked him how he felt. He told me, "I am amazed. I have been to this squat many times, but have never noticed what a unique and interesting place it is. While you are in Germany, will you visit the Black Forest? We must visit the Black Forest. We shall put gasoline in my car, and go. It must be a magical place at night." Oh boy. I suggested we remain local, maybe find an industrial club or a rave, both of which would sit well with our high. Gruber found this to also be an ingenious idea.
When we left, Gruber's car wouldn't start. He grabbed a hammer from the back seat and slid underneath, then banged like a maniac about ten times. He got back in the car, and it started right up. I decided I was happier not knowing. He piloted us to a rave. The place was massive, with neon on the outside. Shit, there were limos out front. I wondered if the doorman would even let us stand on the sidewalk, much less inside. I expressed my worries to Gruber, who told me, "This place is an institution. All of Hamburg may visit, and most will, at some point or another."
I stepped in front of Gruber and paid the door charge, twenty-five Deutschmarks each. This place was.... I don't know how to describe it. Front 242 was playing, not what I expected. It seemed to have a degree of Vegas glitz, but that was put off by the cage dancers, who were wearing (barely) slutty bondage gear, all five of them. There didn't seem to be a dominant social tribe, I saw punks, club kids, goths, leather queens, three piece suits, ravers, preppies, a couple dominatrices, and one guy wearing a sequined Speedo, cowboy boots, and a black mask over his eyes. This joint made me look low-key and inconspicuous. The music changed and they started playing.... Holy shit, Big Black, the song "Kerosene." Gruber went and got us.... more Metric Ass-loads of beer. We stood and observed the crowd, Gruber still bouncing on his feet. A few more people came over to say hi to Gruber, a raver, a leather daddy, and a guy in a suit. Gruber may be one of the most hideous people on the planet and drive a shitty car, but he seems to get around. I was again introduced ("California?" "California!"), and this time, both the guy in the suit and the leather daddy spoke English.
At their questioning, I explained to them both that I lived in a town called Encinitas, on the coast just above San Diego, in a house on the beach. (I'm happy you guys aren't from Fresno.) Both asked if I had a car, and I tried to explain the Cutlass to them, a big V8 hot rod. Both asked if I had ever driven in Los Angeles, to which I said yes.... And what do you think driving in Los Angeles entails? The general view was that LA driving is like a constant Road Warrior battle, only involving thousands of cars and many, many more guns. I explained the worst I'd ever had to deal with was a couple different clowns in BMWs who wanted to race me in my Cutlass. They seemed strangely disappointed. The leather daddy asked me if San Francisco was the nirvana he'd heard it was. I reminded him that I wasn't a gay man, so I would have no way of knowing, but it's a nice town. He offered me a hit off his bottle of poppers, which I refused. Suit guy told me his dream was to retire to California, he wanted to own his personal private beach. I told him there was no such thing as private beach in California, one could conceivably walk up the coastline from Imperial Beach to the Oregon border and not trespass once. He looked crushed. He asked how I was able to look towards the surf from my house and contend with all these.... interlopers, wandering around freely. I told him the vast majority of people on the beach in front of our place were surfers. Young, male, tan, in very good shape, and only wearing swim trunks. I enjoyed the view I had greatly. He asked me what I thought of Germany, to which I replied that I'd had a good time in the ten hours I'd been in the country so far. I told him about going to the squat, which froze him. Squats were the domains of violent disease-ridden drug-addicted anarchists, and even worse, socialists. He seemed amazed I had emerged not bloodied, dope sick from heroin, and somehow pregnant. Gruber reminded him that the squat we had been at often had limos parked outside of it on weekend nights, as the elite visited the drug bazaar to score what they wanted. The street was not littered with the burned-out shells of limos, and there was no pit full of the decomposing bodies of captains of industry.... Although, yeah, fuck the socialists.
Since we had the energy, me and Gruber spent plenty of time on the dance floor. Gruber dances like he's having a highly rhythmic grand mal seizure. What nearly made my brain fall out was that on two occasions, good-looking girls shimmied their way up to Gruber and started dancing with him. With both girls, he and them took turns grinding on each other. And when the girls drifted away, they each gave Gruber a very passionate kiss, a long one, too. I've mentioned just how fucking ugly of a human Gruber is, right? That he frightens small children? He's got something going for him, though. It may turn out I inadvertently hooked up with The Coolest Dude In Hamburg, as certified by both Spin magazine and a panel of people who make a living by being awesome in public.
After we left the dance floor, Gruber wanted to cruise through the lounge rooms above, to see if he ran into anyone he knew. Holy shit. The levels of decadence happening in the lounge rooms make the Viper Room look like a kindergarten. I don't think we went in any room where there weren't at least two people having public oral sex, in all possible combinations of gender. (Man woman, man man, woman woman, woman woman man, man man man....) In one, there was a hospital-sized tank of nitrous oxide laying on a table, with a hose and mask attached. A woman with a flat top and what appeared to be spray-on clothing tended the valve for anyone who wanted a hit. We walked in one, and I thought I'd hit the jackpot: several people at a table were passing around a bong. But then I realized I didn't smell anything. I asked Gruber to find out what they were smoking, was it marijuana? "No, crack cocaine," was the answer. Shit. Another room was the site of an impromptu piercing studio, work being performed on a table. They even had an autoclave plugged in. The catch was you'd better want whatever you're having pierced be six gauge or larger, very thick jewelry. Personally, if the gauges of piercings got any bigger, they wouldn't need needles, they'd need a Mikita cordless drill. And there were people waiting in line to get work done! Holy shit!
We came across a few , of Gruber's mates in one of the lounges, slumped around a table. They looked how ravers would, if ravers stole all their clothing from the homeless. I was introduced ("California?" "California!") and found a couple of them spoke English. I was gently quizzed on what my day-to-day existence was like. They were slightly saddened to learn I only go out surfing a few times a week, not four times daily like they imagined people normally did. Talking of the Cutlass brought on a burst of translation for the non-English speakers present. They were car buffs, and actually knew what a Cutlass 442 was. The vibe I got from them was they were impressed with cars like my Cutlass because they didn't rely on massive technology, but hulking, brute force horsepower. There was no subtlety to why the Cutlass is fast. The subject of LA driving came up again. These guys didn't think it was outright warfare, but they did believe a car like the Cutlass, with its huge engine and massive amounts of steel, was the only safe thing to drive. They were shocked when I told them I routinely ride a motorcycle through LA. A motorcycle? I should have been run over and pulverized, leaving no trace. My disappearance would be a mystery. Gruber informed them of the incredible drug experience he was in the middle of. They seemed nonplussed. Apparently what had been sold to them as refined psilocybin turned out to be over-the-counter sleep aid, hence their lethargy and slumped positions.
One of Gruber's friends tried picking my brains about what California girls were like. I asked him to elaborate. The gist of what he was after was a how-to guide for getting in the pants of "California girls," as if they're a uniform, homogeneous mass. He sulked while I laughed at him. I pointed out that California is a huge melting pot of cultures and ethnicity. Maria Gonzales will not have the same mind frame as Jan Nguyen, and neither would understand the thought processes of Mandy Gibson. I pointed out that Germany seems to have a lot of disparate types of people in it, just look around this club. Did he have a sure-fire way of getting tail from every native German chick in the country? I noted that just the separations of social tribes, even if the tribes were all of the same general ethnic background, put the lie to the idea of scoring with a "California girl." It's more than class separation that keeps punk rock boys from fucking cheerleaders, the two groups have entirely different social cues, methods of communication, and sense of self. A little more talk revealed he just plain wanted to visit California and fuck a beach betty, blonde, big tits, tan, bikini, the whole trope. I suggested that for the type of girl he was interested in, seven wine coolers, some cocaine, and the offer of a chance at a modeling career would work just dandy. He was grateful for this intel.
It turned out this club never closed. Ever. Cut off from the influences of day and night, people would dance, carouse, take drugs, drink, attempt sexual contact, and generally debase themselves until they collapsed from hunger. After more time on the dance floor (Gruber's dancing style had shifted from grand mal seizure to looking like a wino with palsy) and three(!) more Metric Ass-loads of beer, I checked my watch and realized it was nearly six o'clock in the morning. All the beer was starting to trounce the speedy effect of the Ecstasy. Gruber was mystified. How can there be such a thing as too much beer? That would be like breathing too much air. I reminded him he still had to work the next day, so he should try to get at least a little rest, and I didn't want to worry Vito by not coming back to the hotel at all. We headed out to the Trabant. It started just fine, but a strange growling sound began as we sat at a light. Gruber rolled his eyes, grabbed a tire iron, popped the hood, and savagely jabbed at something. The growling went away. Still being high, I decided that this car was actually designed quite well. Anything that breaks on it can be fixed with some form of brutal violence. You could probably patch a flat tire on a Trabant just by kicking it in the right spot.
Vito may not have stayed up waiting on me, but he probably never got into a deep sleep in my absence, either. I had stripped down and was crawling in bed when he knocked on the door to my suite, wanting to know how my night had went. I told him about it, including scoring Smiley. This intrigued him, especially when I explained that in Europe, Smiley Ecstasy was a serious luxury item, the beluga caviar of drugs. How it got brought over (and by who) was anyone's guess. Vito pondered this, then announced he would be spending some time on the phone tomorrow, he needed to talk to Angel. I asked if it was about Smiley showing up in Europe, and he said, "It is. The reputation of the drug precedes itself, it makes sense Smiley would become an indulgence only available to the wealthy if it is not readily available. I am curious about who the smugglers are, but I will not pretend I can stop them. The mafia is not so naive as to think that can happen. Nonetheless, the introduction of Smiley to Europe, even as a rarity for the rich, could mean either a crisis or an opportunity for the family. We shall see."
Wow. Not only is a drug I've watched you guys hand out like gum an indulgence available only to the privileged in Europe, the fact that it's there at all is making Vito's brains turn at a higher RPM. I've gotta end this letter. I've been writing it for four days now, and it's going to cost a fortune to mail.