12/18/2002

Budapest: a day in the life

The market was packed this morning. The combined age of all the customers must have been in the billions, maybe trillions (and it’s not a great, huge place, either). I took the bus to Zuglo again today, and I think by the end I almost OD’d on humanity. I suppose I should have called a cab, but I’m getting back at them for Monday. Plus, I know I didn’t write anything about it, but last time they sent me a very well-heeled driver in a big, beautiful Merc. It had the name of a four-star hotel very discreetly etched in the driver-side door, but otherwise you couldn’t even tell it was a cab. I have to say, he was a bit of a snob, this cabbie—because still, that’s what he was—a cabbie. No use putting on airs like you’re above it. I mean, there’s nothing in the world wrong with it, but you’re no better than your passengers just because you drive a Merc, and maybe they haven’t even got a car.

I sat in the front, which was a mistake this time. I mean the Teuton came to fetch me the time before that, and all I did the whole time was look at his hands and think about his cock. I know just what it’s like, but I’d like to see it just to be double-sure. And he’s so easy-going. Some people—my dad was like this—when they’re silent, you can feel them stewing. It’s a broody silence, full of unspeakable sins and unspoken regrets. And then there’s a peaceful kind of concentrated silence, and that’s how this bloke is. Anyway, I always sit up front with him, because, (a) I get a better view, and (b) the first time I rode with him I didn’t, and he didn’t adjust the seat for me. The boys at the office told me I should always sit in the back seat. When I told them I thought I had offended the Teuton by doing so, they all looked at me like, so what? I mean, who cares if you offend the cabbie? But they don’t know my Teuton. If Claudia Schiffer was their cabbie they’d care. They’d sit up front. Not that he’s the male version of Claudia Schiffer. The kid’s not a supermodel, but I’m willing to bet he’s a good lay, just by the way he drives (he’s a smooth shifter, never grinds the gears). He’s probably a damn sight better driver than Claudia Schiffer, anyway.

So the long and short of it is that I took the bus this morning. It’s nice in a way, if you catch it at the right time, because it’s a good mix of people. It runs through some good neighborhoods, and some not so good neighborhoods, and past a big gimnázium on Thököly út. It was too crowded this morning, though, and several traffic lights were out of order on the way, so there was a big drama at every intersection.

On my way to Moszkva tér to get on the metro, before catching the bus at Astoria, I passed quite a few students on their way to school, as usual. I am getting old. I can see that now. It’s obvious. I mean, I know that when they see me, they’re thinking (in a non-thinking sort of way): that one’s not an us, he’s a them. You want to say, "No! I’m with you! I’m not old! I’m an us, too!" But you know that they would recoil in horror. You’re a them now. Just accept it.

As I walked over the Nos.59/61 tram lines, a boy of, I’d say about fifteen, sixteen, came quite literally flailing past, arms and legs flying off in all different directions. I thought, now, if he were a Them (like me) that whole scene would have been extremely annoying, but because he’s an Us, like we all were once before becoming dreadful, monstrous Thems, it was actually sort of lovely. Then, as if to confirm the hypothesis, a middle-aged man flailed past me on the other side. One of his body parts—what do they say in the cop shows—grazed me. I glared at him. He didn’t even see me. He had that panic in his eyes: "Oh, God! What if I miss my tram! I’ll be late for work again! What will the boss say?!" It’s pathetic. A grown man running for the tram. And if I were a tram driver I would wait until he got right up to the door, and shut it and speed off, just like they always do.

My lesson was nothing special. Nothing new. And when it was over I turned around and headed back the way I came. I have come to think of my walks through the park as "death walks," since that’s what I always end up thinking about. I’m not sure if it’s this particular park, or if I was walking through some other park I would still be thinking about death. Probably.

(later)

The snowball thing has gone from cute and boyish to obnoxious to personally traumatizing. Yesterday I watched as the boys battled each other on the streets below,laughing and gallivanting about as boys do, and it was so boyish, I had to laugh along. Today the snow is soiled, there’s sludge in the street and salt on the sidewalks. The nice, even blankets of snow on the hoods of the cars have been gathered up and used to make missiles, leaving unsightly chunks here and there. At Hosok tere, when my instinct (because of my spill on Monday) was to take a right and stay on the walk, a great group of high school boys was walking that way battling with their fucking snowballs all the while. I knew they would stop if I passed through their midst (or at least I assumed they would), but they would resent me for interrupting their fun, and it would be yet more proof that I was even more of a Them than I already knew I was.

Then I get home, and I’m working on the PC, and I hear a thud outside. I go to the window, and there are three schoolboys (one very fat, another medium, and the third was an absolute fox). They were aiming at a third or fourth floor window, probably just to see if they could hit it. The fat kid was standing back. The other two took aim and fired. I know both the flat above mine and the one above it are empty, or at least the shutters are drawn most of the time. The snow came raining down in front of my window. The beautiful lad was taking aim again, and I waved from the window. He didn’t see me but the fat one did. He waved back. Then he mugged and gave me the thumbs up. I mugged and gave him the thumbs up back. He muttered something to his buddies. The cute one thought better of throwing the snowball. The medium one, who was a real little cunt, seemed to think I was all about spoiling their fun, and I suppose I was. This is the final phase of the transition between an Us and a Them, of course.

Now they were all looking up at me, and he says something to the others while not taking his eyes off me, and the others responded, without taking their eyes off me, either. That was funny. As if, if they took their eyes off me I might launch a counteroffensive or something. I mean, I was in the superior position. But I didn’t have any snow. There’s none on the sill, even. Isn’t that how it always goes?

So they had formulated a plan real quick-like and communicated it to each other in hushed tones while never taking their eyes off me. I knew what it was, though. Ever since attending Madame Tilburina’s Lip-reading seminars in Plovdiv, Bulgarija back in the summer of ’83, I could read their lips from half a kilometer, in a light mist, even if they were facing the opposite direction, no sweat. Plus they’re boys. I mean you don’t have to read their lips, you can read their minds easily enough.

They pretended like they were just going to walk away, but suddenly the little cunt turned and launched his little missile at my window. He had an excellent arm. If it had been open I would’ve had that snowball for lunch. Instead, from behind my glass shield I laughed and laughed. He flipped me the bird (he looked really angry, too), and they all walked off down the street. He was probably calling me buzi-köcsög, and so on. And me standing there in my own window, in my own home. That little cunt has issues, is all I can say.

I rushed straight to the bathroom, to check my hair in the mirror. What a wreck I looked! In about ten years I’ll look just like Keith Richards, all these wrinkles. And I never knew crows had such enormous feet! I can’t believe I stood in my own window looking like that! And with that succulent sixteen year old looking up at me (the cute one didn’t throw anything at my window, by the way, nor did he flip me the bird, or make any rude gestures or faces at me). If that little cunt hadn’t been there, maybe I could’ve leaned out the window and invited the other two up for tea. I could’ve gotten rid of the fat one easily enough—like with Gino, just give him a few forints and send him out for a six-pack. By the time he got back I’d have done his buddy, and I’d have a six-pack to myself for later.

Well, for a few moments I wasn’t sure if I had been traumatized or not. I mean, here I’m just recovering from the last assault on my flat, and have to close the shutters at dusk. Now will I have to leave them like that during the day as well? A flat under siege night and day? From those wretched gimázistas? And here I am right across the street from their headmistress! She might have seen the whole thing! I’m sure she closed her eyes, turned her head, and she’ll go on pretending it never happened. The injustice of it all!

But then I remembered (for I had momentarily forgotten) that I had done more than just stand in the window, noncommittally. I had in a sense launched the first volley with my coy little wave. Yes, it was my fault. All my fault. I had actually waved at the cute one, just as he was about to launch his little missile, and was looking up at my building. But it was the fat one who had seen me (the story of my life) and waved back. And it just got out of hand because of that homophobic little bigot who threw a snowball at me! It was a hate crime! What if I had had the window open? What if I had been struck by that missile? And injured? It could have been fatal! I could have caught pneumonia and died!

Excuse me whilst I go lower the shutters.

That’s better. It’s kind of dark in here, but I feel much safer now.

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