Literary Lessons: What I learned from the axe-wielding murderer, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

The End

In a recent post, I reviewed Graham Green’s The End of the Affair, which I added to my list of “profoundly impacting novels“. A commenter on this post, one Peter Galen Massey, remarked my inclination toward rather, uhm, “unstable” characters. One such character is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment. This got me thinking—navel gazing, of course, of which I am want to do while whistling away at work—and my thoughts lingered first on why am I attracted to these more reckless characters? and, furthermore, what does this reveal about my own character?

Once I came to the conclusion that I don’t revere Raskolnikov for his axe-wielding abilities, I set out to undertake an explanation as to why nearly every other year I come back to such a large and engrossing novel, such as Crime and Punishment. But to explain this phenomenon, I have to quickly summarize C & P. Alright, here it goes.

The novel is a reverse crime novel, i.e. we know who dunnit. In fact, we are privy to the murderer’s thoughts and actions both before and after the deed is done. There are six parts of the novel, and the first part is the murder. The rest is how Raskolnikov atones for this murder. Along the way there are some amazingly beautiful characters (including the Marmeladov family—who were actually the basis for the original novel of C & P, entitled The Drunkards—, Raskolnikov’s buddy Dmitri Razumikhin, and Porfiry Petrovich, to name just a few). Raskolnikov is a poor law student, and happens to follow a bit of Nihlism that is popping up around St. Petersburg at the time—Russian Nihlism, German Nihlism‘s uglier, angrier, and drunker sibling. Raskolnikov murders a pawn broker, Alyona Ivanovna, whom he has convinced himself, after hearing a conversation in a bar, is worthless and that the world would be better without her in it.

The first portion is Rodya not only plotting the murder, but convincing himself that it is okay. Now, here’s where the book becomes something more than just a run-of-the-mill, mystery-thriller-dime-store-novel stuff. CSI does this stuff to death, right? (excuse the pun): someone is murdered, and they have to find not only the killer, but his/her motive as well. Well, here’s the deal with Dostoevsky: we get to actually watch and imagine Rodya justifying murder—an act no normal individual can reasonably justify. Yes, murders are everywhere. Go ahead, turn on CNN, I’ll wait… but being inside the thoughts of someone who is convincing himself that murder is permissible is absolutely insane. It is raw, ugly existentialism.

Stuttgart StrasseSo, what I learned from Raskolnikov is that one must justify ones actions to two sets of peoples. First there is yourself. You simply must justify yourself each and every day you exist. And most of you, and me, have a preexisting justification for our daily lives. For example, why we eat bacon, why we wear jeans, why we take 10 minute showers, etc. The next set of peoples are the society in which you live. There are laws, both subtle and pronounced, for which each of is responsible for the sake of a peaceful existence. Such as, Thou shalt not steal, murder, worship false idols, and stopping at red lights, paying taxes for wars we protest, pirating music, etc. The weird (and beautiful) part is that both of these conditional clauses are dependent upon environment. In example, let’s say, in Germany, jaywalking is a huge no-no, but it is mostly enforced by social conditions. Whereas in New York, jaywalking is a part of the environment and one can and will justify their right to jaywalk with the proverbial, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” This response would not fly in Deutschland.

What is unique about Raskolnikov is that he overcame the most important person who kept telling him no: himself. Once he overcame that… well, that’s only the first part.

The rest of the novel is whether this “overcoming of self” is justifiable within societal norms, laws, and customs. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Rodya confesses in a populated square in the middle of St. Petersburg after an interesting scene where Sonya Marmeladov reads the story of Lazarus to him. And another scene where he confesses to the police, but they don’t believe him! (Ugh, that is a tough one to read). It should be no surprise that Christianity is impetus for Raskolnikov’s confession. It is personal guilt that eventually overcomes him, and guilt is the driving force behind Roman Catholicism, not to mention Christianity as a whole. Suffering is purposeful and personal for Raskolnikov. But atonement is not only personal, it is societal—which is why his confession is performed in a public square. Raskolnikov has overcome personal guilt to become this übermensch, or so at least he thinks (what is ultimately played out in C & P, is that the übermensch is an impossibility, if not a strict rarity, because of civilized norms).

The point is that all of this, all of this life, needs justification. It needs, nay requires, a reason. Not just breaking the law, but adhering to it as well. And it is not only oneself that one must reason into submission, it is also you and everyone reading this blog. And everyone driving on the road. And everyone on the subway staring into their new iPhone 5s. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to explain to people that each of us justifies our lives and actions in some way, shape, or form. Most people do NOT want to hear that their actions are conditional responses based upon profound and unfathomably numerous cultural signals and cues. Most people want to hear that each and every time they do something, it is a result of a choice. A rational choice plucked from the blooming flower of infallible logic. But that was Dostoevsky’s point! He thought that man was irrational! Such was the basis for existentialism. In fact, Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella, is a philosophical response in favor of irrationality against Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel, What is to be Done?

Boston CrowdI read Crime and Punishment and understand millionaires. I understand their wanting more. I understand crooked criminals. I understand the bribers and the bribed. I understand the takers and the givers, the makers and the destroyers. Because each and every one of them has justified their existence and their actions. Whether it be purchasing sliced bread or a new bed, each and every single one of us justifies our actions so that we can sleep at night—with full stomachs and on soft sheets.

I hope that I am not misunderstood in this post. And I hope that we can all learn something “good” from Raskolnikov. What we should learn is that we are all here for one another. No one exists alone. Not even Raskolnikov, not even the übermensch, not even the genius or the tyrant, the hero or the villain, the thief or the prosecutor. We are all responsible for the well being of one another. So, thank you for my well being, dear readers. I am truly thankful for yours.

The Croatian Communion of Cookies and Coffee

They smuggled cookies everywhere, like children sneaking JuJuBees into a movie theater within the lining of their jackets.

During my last visit, her parents brought a package of cookies to a mountain top cafe where we opened them quietly while the Fraulein was in the kitchen watching for our Café au laits and macchiatos. The restaurant provided cookies. They were individually wrapped, laying leisurely on the saucer, and shaped like spoons to better scoop our cappuccino foam, but it was so impersonal. So individual. Those German wafers were held singularly in captivity, annexed from the true communal nature of their existence. And so they stayed that way throughout our respite.

MountainMaybe it was a survival strategy, or perhaps it was culture, but those cookies that the cafe provided always found their way into her and her mother’s stylish Croatian purses. They were rescued refugees, just like their now owners, and deserved a good home with friends and family to support their struggle for freedom.

Later on, I would recognize those mountain top wafers looking comfortable, yet a bit apprehensive, on the porcelain plate that came out of the fridge during our coffee conversations. Now, finally out of their plastic coffins, they were free to live with their fellow cookie, joyously preoccupied with idle conversation and gossip, exempt of the existential knowledge of their basic function: to be eaten.

I never quite grasped eating cookies and coffee after climbing a mountain. I thirsted for water, Powerade, Gatorade, something that would aid me in my climb, something that Michael Jordan endorsed. Something that promised the replenishment of my electrolytes. So I sat at the cafe sweltering in the tight mountain air, that much closer to the sun, sipping coffee and lightly snacking on the orange chocolate wafers that supposedly bridged the language gap between all of us.

Because of all this, now I crave sugary confections with my coffee. I search through the empty spaces of cupboards. I peer in pantries. I open the fridge, hoping that a cookie has miraculously appeared during my absence.

Cupboard, pantry, fridge. Cupboard, pantry fridge.

Sometimes I vary the routine, but it still yields the same result. The very definition of insanity. It didn’t used to be this way. I took my coffee with cream. No sugar. Half & Half. Breve. But I stayed far away from sugary morsels that usually accompanied coffee to the tables of bourgeois homes.

At her parent’s home—after the soup, salad, and meat course, each course with its own set of dishes and silverware—we had coffee.

Small, white porcelain cups with gold etching encircling the rim would escape the small dishwasher along with their matching saucer, but for only a moment to be used and immediately shoved back in once the discussion dried up. They were the unfortunate ones that barely saw the light of day.

As for the lucky ones, first there was the shiny, metal cream dispenser that sat in the fridge perpetually full, as though magic had replenished it. The only sign of use a slight drip languidly trailing down its spout, or the surfacing and eventual receding of condensation as it was lifted from its natural home within the chilled refrigerator and out into the open Swabian June air.

The other fortunate son was the cookie plate. It was white with blue, sometimes maroon, etching that showed a distant farmhouse of what may have been a Croatian or Bosnian countryside. It looked breakable. As though one more cookie heaved on its lightness would bring it down with a smash on the table. But it never did.

Bday CakeThe chilled plate contained at the very least three variations of sweets, which, like the cream, were replenished through either magic or a craft of secrecy that no guest would, could or should ever puncture for the very lack of decency that knowing might betray. These cookies never failed to appear whenever or wherever coffee was served.

And we endlessly drank coffee. The coffee-stained, glass pot in their kitchen was kept warm throughout the morning, but one never drank coffee alone. It had other functions than fuel for individual achievements. It prodded discussions. It cajoled tears and remembrances. It told our futures.

Like the day before I flew home from Stuttgart airport to Minneapolis, I was the last one to empty the coffee pot at 9pm at night. Her mother smiled at me a smile that squished her eyes and tightened her lips, and then she said in a broken English mixture of Croatian, Bosnian and German accents that now it will be my turn to host.

A flood of images and lingering questions corrupted me: how will I get these people to Minnesota? Where will they stay? How will our families communicate? My mother is infamous for her passive aggressive nervousness and judgmental facial expressions, and her mother’s overbearing nature crams the air with an anxious eagerness that bemoans the fortunes and struggles of two piqued immigrant refugee daughters who no longer need her; and not one son, nor the promise of a grandson, to delightfully and thanklessly devour her food or drink her drink.

WineThat favor, and slight responsibility, fell upon me. And drink I did:

One shot of home-made plum Slavonian vodka before eating.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One glass seltzer water during dinner.

One more shot of home-made plum vodka before the main course.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One cup of coffee. Cream. No sugar. With cookies and cakes for dessert.

One German bier with her father after the table is cleared, with salted snacks emerging from cupboards.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One more German bier, if her father was feeling talkative.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

I have been spoiled by the attentiveness of a mother whose only heterosexual daughter has brought home a boyfriend from across the Atlantic Ocean. The first boyfriend they have had the pleasure of hosting and being introduced to in over a decade. The pressure was grand. It was bulky. Fat, yet dexterous.

It tied our tongues. It spoke up in between the silences or the lost moments of translation. It coughed when I nodded in agreement to a word or phrase I did not understand. And it eventually wore her and her parents out.

They would have liked my coffee. I make it four cups at a time in a metal, double-lined coffee press. I ground it one pound at a time and kept it in an airtight container. I would have had snacks ready. Confections of the American breed. Oreos, perhaps. Sugar cubes for her and her father.

I could imagine hearing the dismissal of apologies for mismatched coffee mugs while I poured. A lingering disapproval as I offered cream from the Land O’ Lakes container. The subtle noise the plastic flap the Oreo cookie wrapping made each time we wanted one would be like a siren warning us that something isn’t quite right. Something is mismatched. One of these things is not like the other.

But that moment never arrived.

So, now I’ll continue my search for cookies, and pour myself another cup of coffee while I write about a distant land and a distant way of life. A life without the constant hum of American television, or the hopelessly forlorn pride of single parents, or an inharmonious collection of dishes that betray an utter unpreparedness for guests, or the clenched beauty of traditions that are to be cherished and passed on with force against reluctance.

I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee, and consider what I’ve gained and what I have lost.

I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee, and ruminate on how my past informs my future.

But first, just to make sure there are no cookies, I’ll check the pantry again.

Halt Your Enthusiasm!

I am here in Germany visiting my gf, and I happen to be here when the city of Mainz is celebrating their annual Johannisnacht festival. Last night was the final night, and it was celebrated in style with a 15-minute firework display, which my gf and I watched from Theodor-Heuss Bridge that links Wiesbaden and Mainz.

Johannisnacht 1On the first night of the festival, Friday night, my gf and I walked to the city center where the festivities were held and ate a bit of food and had a beer or two. That was the night I learned my first lesson in Germany enthusiasm: Wait until the song, event, phenomenon, is completely finished before celebrating. I am quiet serious. That Friday night we enjoyed a few songs from an all too impressive Black Sabbath cover band playing at one end of the festivities. Being a Sabbath fan from my teenage years, I sang along and cheered whenever I was struck with excitement. And for this, I received some good ol’ fashion German upbraiding: the stare! First, yes, I was the only one clapping… of which my gf informed me I was, um, premature in my celebration (soooo American, she says). And then I got a stare. The stare from an older German gentleman whose fun I was apparently ruining. Lesson learned.

Three night later and I am about to test my new found knowledge at the final celebratory night. It was tough. It was tough for this red-blooded “didn’t-know-how-American-he-was-until-fireworks-came-out” guy NOT to “oooh,” “aaah,” and cheer every time some pretty colors burst over the Rhine. So, I was quiet. I stood and listened to some sparsely hasty, yet hushed, German excitement over the larger fireworks. But for the most part, the collection of citizens in the photos below didn’t make as sound during the whole fiery procession.

Only one dared to make a sound. As an acute cluster of fireworks dissipated, one promisingly remarkable firework shot forth into the sky. As the dormant firework traveled upwards, I heard from a man on my right as the rocket shot high, a barely audible remark; a lovely admission of the pretense of excitement echoed in the most German way possible. A small, yet significant, word was uttered in an almost official tone: “Jawohl…”.

Fireworks 1Fireworks 2

Fireworks 3Fireworks 4

Jawohl. You’re damn right, “Jawohl”.

A Slight bit of Complaining and Humor

WeatherIt’s Tuesday, April 9th in Minnesota, and it’s raining. Tonight it will snow. Tomorrow it will sleet, and snow again on Friday. Last year it was nearly 61 degrees Fahrenheit by this time. This state amazes me (or as our local weatherman said, “Considering it’s April 9th, these temperatures are pretty incredible”). But, to my point.

My girlfriend arrived from Germany this past Wednesday, and she is leaving one week from now. We made tons of romantic plans, and are even prepared for a nice trip to Chicago from this Thursday through Sunday (yes, it will be raining and cold in Chicago). Amongst the weather, the front brakes on my vehicle started grinding the day I picked her up! I noticed a squeal or two the days before that, but paid it no mind. Now they are full-on grinding. So, I have to drop my car off tonight and borrow my mother’s car to use while my brakes are being fixed tomorrow. Sheesh!

You want more? Okay. So, on top of all this happening: I got sick. I get sick perhaps twice per year. It is bad: coughing, runny nose, fever, hot flashes, but then there is the worst part: the chills. I have this thing where when I am desperately sick, I get severe chills. So, Saturday night my gf, my daughter & and I are sitting and watching Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and we proceed to bed about 8:15. I can do nothing but fall into bed and shiver. I am freezing. Not 10 minutes later, I realize that there are 5 blankets on top of me and I still shivered for hours. Eventually I drank some Nyquil and my fever broke about midnight when I realized how many blankets I had on me and that I was sweating like a mad man! My gf spent the whole night next to me making sure I got better. After my fever broke and I woke up, she discovered we don’t have mint tea, lemon, or honey in our house to which she replied, “You guys conquered the whole world without lemon or honey!” The next morning she threatened me with her Croatian grandmother’s cure for illness by rubbing me down with vinegar and garlic. We bought some peppermint tea instead.

Silver LiningsSo now I am downstairs feeling better, and, you guessed it, my gf is upstairs resting her burgeoning soar throat. But we have had some amazing moments together. Last night we went to see Silver Lining Playbook—our first actual date-movie ever after 2 years of being together!—it was great, btw. We Skyped with her parents last week, and made meals together. She had her very first PB&J ever and LOVED IT! And I got to see my gf and my daughter interact. That was fun. Of course I was incapacitated, but I noticed my gf’s caring manner.

So, we shall see how Chicago fares. I shall pack an umbrella, honey, lemon, and tissues! No garlic…

Simulacra and Simile: This Post is Really, Like, Super Important

“That really, seriously just happened, like, literally, two minutes ago.”

As an English major and an adjunct professor of English/Humanities, many people make some pretty classic assumptions about me: I’m a grammar nerd, I’ve read every classic work of Literature you name from memory, and I detest slang. Well, none of those are true: I haven’t, until recently, paid enough attention to grammar, I read more Said, Marx, and Spivak than Defoe, Shelley, or Austen in my MA program, and I love how slang functions and defines a culture.

I want to put this post into context. Over the last one and a half years, I have made three trips to Germany to visit my gf. ZeitDuring that time, I have been listening to Pimsleur German audio in my car to improve what remains of my very limited high school and college German language and grammar skills. I’m going to focus on two characteristics about the German language that distinguish it from American slang, and reveal a particularity about American culture.

First, you have to listen to the entire German sentence to know what is happening! (Because the verb comes at the end. For instance, in the last sentence, the word “listen” wouldn’t come until the end). Second, time is very, very important, and usually occurs before location or the verb. The more specific, the better. So, what does this tell us about American slang?

Well, our discourse is quite general and often hyperbolic. Words such as “really,” “seriously,” and “literally” are attempts to make a language that is general, specific. They are adjectives that replace specific knowledge, or rather, the communication and therefore required memorization of specific times and places. Let’s take the intro quote as an example: the words “really,” “literally,” and “seriously” are added for emphasis. Again, they serve to bolster the non-specificity of general language. But why? Why do we need these words to reenforce the measurement of time?

The first reason is because of the event’s relation to the present. Something that just happened only occurred within a specific time period. SimulacraA phenomenon occurring sixty minutes ago did not just happen. Although, something occurring within 15 minutes may have just happened. To make sure to close that gap we add the adjective “seriously” to emphasis the now-ness of the event. With the advent of “seriously,” the time gap then shrinks to a minute or two of now-ness. The term “literally” conveys a sense of believability, both on the speaker and listener’s part. It is not that we do not trust what the other has to say, but simply that we do not trust that a phenomenon happened to them—something I will discuss later. What is at the core of needing these repeated and quite superfluous emphases? One simple word: “like”.

“You should, like, seriously read this.”

Like is a simile (“a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of different kind; method of comparison”); it is also “similar to” and “in the manner of,” “appropriate to,” “as though,” and finally, informally, “used in speech as a meaningless filler or to signify the speaker’s uncertainty” (all definitions from my Mac Dictionary). The last one is my favorite, yet it does not convey the true cultural significance of the word like. For that, we need another example. This time with a verb.

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit.”

I know you’ve heard this conversation. You may even have had this conversation! No worries, though. Slang is a significant method of socialization when eliminating those not, um, biologically speaking, the most fit for secure reproduction, e.g. “cool”. Ahhemmm… Now that we got that out of the way, I ask you: What did Gill do today? Did he throw the football around? Well, technically, no. When Gill uses the simile “like,” he states that he did something like throwing a ball around. He performed a simulation; therefore, he may or may not have thrown the football around. We don’t know. So, he didn’t throw the football around. So what? Well then, smarty-pants, if Gill is stating to you that he didn’t do something that he says he did, then how does he reverse that negative “not doing”? He uses emphasis. Now watch.

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit. Man, once, Lill threw it really hard and I had to run superfast to, like, just catch it, you know?! That was crazy.”

Finally! Gill has provided some much needed emphasis in order to substantiate his earlier claim that he was throwing the football around. The words “really” and “superfast” provide hyperbole that negates this nothingness of simulation, proving to his friend that he actually did do something! He did so much of something that he really did this something! And it was amazing! Really!

What’s important in this post and our understanding of slang is not to dismiss it as insipid, stupid, useless, or a tripe form of communication. Rather we should notice that those overused adjectives betray the postmodern value of a simulation—as nothing really happening directly to us; as the televised launch of the Gulf War; as Jane Austen updated with zombies. The point is: you don’t need anything to actually happen to you (although it does make events richer). You don’t really need to read Pride & Prejudice to get the zombie version, and you don’t really need to hold a gun to be cynical/sympathetic of war. So, when our state of non-being and non-experiencing bumps in to reality, we swing the pendulum back and must overuse hyperbolic adjectives in order to prove that we actually lived…

Thanks for reading everyone. I would love to read your comments. Really, I would.

Those Moments

So, I am back.

Well, I have been back in the States since Wednesday, October 17th, but I have been under some heavy jet lag since my return from my thirty day trip to visit my gf in Germany. And it so happens that I am now aiming for a relationship post. I hope you enjoy.

Well… here it goes: people keep asking me what I did in Germany. What did I see. Where did I go. What did I do for a whole thirty days without a job! And I figured out the answer: I was a couple. You see, I have a very, very romantic relationship with my gf. It is full of beautiful moments, gargantuan undertakings, thousands of flight miles, people from all over the world, numerous languages and dialects, intercontinental cultural gaps, passport stamps, visas, borders security, long airport kisses, tears, smiles, currency exchanges, delayed planes, regional trains, and a few automobiles; but we don’t go to a movie every Friday; we don’t brush our teeth together; we don’t eat breakfast in a hurry on our way to work; we don’t do each others laundry; we don’t “peck” each other a goodbye kiss.

So, that’s what I did. We had those moments.

Yeah, we did laundry together. And it felt great. I even went out one evening with a friend of her’s who took me to a half-dozen bars in Mainz (he brought me home at 4am! That’s like 11am in Minnesota!). But the best part of that evening was giving her that “peck” kiss before I left the apartment with him. That was a truly memorable moment. We hosted a party with 11 people (four couples who all left at an appropriate time, and one single fella who stayed much too late for my gf’s taste). Organizing that party was everything to us, but I think it’s something people who live near, or with, one another take for granted. We purchased and then installed a modem/router together. That’s about as coupley as it gets. And these are the moments I remember most of all. Airport scanners and long awaited kisses are part of our routine relationship, but laundry, routers, and a whole evening apart is the stuff of our romance novel.

A few days after I left Germany, each of us had a friend ask us if we were sad. I said no. So did she. It’s not sadness. You see, over the last eighteen months we have been together physically for two (with all the days added up), and each time we have learned something amazing about one another and our relationship. So much so, that we talk about those experiences for maybe 3-4 months after, and then we talk about what will happen over our next visit. If I was still the 23-year old kid I was not long ago–without a 5-year old daughter, a job I enjoy, or confidence in my future–I would have moved. I would have left here in a heart beat to be with her for all the wrong reasons. And because of that, it would have been over just as fast. The weight of that decision would have been far too intense for either of us to handle. Now I treat it with the calm respect a decision of that magnitude deserves. We plan and think and dream and talk, but we both treat our relationship, and the knowledge that someday one or both of us will uproot, as though it is a given fact. And that kind of confident Love leaves little room for sadness.

I want to know your moments. Tell me the little moments that make your relationship amazing.

A Happy Hangover Post

“(Heavy sigh) Now I can sink thraight.”
-my gf after our huge hangover breakfast

Sometimes, don’t laugh, I’ll stop and take notice of the color or the shape of something I usually take for granted—beige paint on a wall, the nicks in wood flooring—and realize where I am. Existentially speaking; where I am. Yeah. Strange, huh? Right now I’m sitting in a one-bedroom apartment in Mainz, Germany that I share with my gf; well, for the next five days. Mainz is 30 minutes north of where my father’s ancestors married, had children, and eventually left Germany for America over 120 years ago. And here I am. Sitting on a purple, plush IKEA couch that lays flat, but last night was upright so that it could make more room for the eleven people gathering in this little apartment for a night of hamburgers, french fries, and Jack and Coke’s.

The guests arrived promptly around 7:00pm. At 6:53pm, I was out getting last-minute-tomatoes for our 2-dozen hamburgers were were making that night for the eight Germans, one Croatian, one Pole, and, me, the lone American, when I ran into a few of the attendees out buying bottles of wine before their arrival. I quickly headed them off and made it up stairs in time to check on the french fries. The buzzer rang just as I stepped inside. My gf was nervous, so I stayed out of her way and entertained the guests while she and a German girlfriend or two of hers cooked. The night went well. I kept the guests, who are all mutual acquaintances, very entertained with stories and anecdotes that I delivered with a big, healthy American smile (I may even have a German man date tomorrow night). At one point during a conversation where I fell into a nice rhythm of my colloquial English, the German girl I was speaking to said with the nicest smile and a healthy, glowing blush, “I don’t understand what you are saying, so I will just sit here and eat my cake.” I almost fell off the couch laughing! Those Germans. They really do not mess around.

And then the whiskey went dry. One bottle of the finest Jack Daniel’s our local REWE has to offer down, and this same girl’s bf offered to buy another. And so he did. This is possibly more whiskey then that little store has sold in a year. After all the couples left, three guests stayed far beyond what my gf determined, with a subtlety notable in the female of our species, was a good hour to still be welcomed in her apartment. They got the hint, and eventually left my gf and I alone to argue over why my being completely hammered left me heedless to her delicate intimations. But the best part about having a little row is making up: laughing how foolish you were as you piece together the night, shaking your head while thinking about a missed chance for the right phrase or a slightly misunderstood statement.

So, today we are spending the day hungover; sleeping, cleaning, laughing about last night, and eating a humongous breakfast consisting of OJ, lots of water, aspirin, bacon, meatballs, scrambled eggs, bread and Bresso (if you don’t know what Bresso is, seriously, you should. It’s simply amazing). You see, hangovers have a way of causing me to reflect more than usual. And I am so happy to have this life.

It takes a lot for me to write that statement. Where I grew up, the Midwest, we don’t go around telling people how happy we are. That is considered bragging. We talk about experiences as though they are moments to get through; moments that happened to us, but they don’t affect our character or redetermine our lives. Are concerns are pragmatic not romantic, practical not sentimental. Being unhappy with some aspect of our lives is an essentially sympathetic role of our Midwestern character. It’s like a warm hug, or a way of knowing someone is from the same region. Back there, in my Midwest States, we qualify our happiness. We don’t often simply say: I am happy. Period. Punkt. Full stop. There is always something. Always a thorn. Always an I’m happy, but…

But, I’m not happy, but… I’m happy. And I like that. Full stop.