18 July 2012

Dale and the Golden Nugget

I wrote a short story called Dale and the Golden Nugget that I think is funny and worth reading. Since it isn't the kind of story that literary magazine editors salivate over, I thought I would give Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing a shot. You can download the story for $0.99 at:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008LVD4Q2

Love it or hate it let me know what you think--either on the Amazon page or in the comments section  below.

Thanks for reading,

MB Abroad

                                                              Description:

Dale is sure that his plan is fool proof; steal the 3rd gold nugget discovered in the California gold rush, pour his heart out to Darla the love of his life and leave their small mountain town in the dust. The heist is the first big idea Dale has ever had and the first big move he has ever made. Despite his careful planning the heist goes hysterically haywire putting the happy ending to his townie fairytale in peril.  

First Page Teaser:
The showroom of the Twain Harte Historical Preservation Society was empty save for a crumpled 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper, a folding metal chair and a few shards of glass. Hours earlier the room had showcased the 3rd gold nugget discovered in the California gold rush—the Preservation Society’s pride and joy. Dale Dilbert took it. He took it in the name of love. 
Dale’s dad was fond of saying, “Dale you are about as bright as a firefly with its butt put out.”  Dale muttered these very words to himself as he cowered behind the bar at the Wild Coyote. He had just poured his heart out to Darla, the love of his life. He told her all the things he always wanted to say and never could. He offered her the nugget. She held his cheeks in her hands and pinched them hard. She wobbled and shook his face. She opened her mouth to speak, but before her sweet words of love and acceptance could pour out (as Dale was sure they would) sirens pierced the moment—killed it good. And Darla ran away.
Dale slumped back dumbfounded. He stared into the wall-length mirror above the bar and watched the reflected image of the sheriff wiping his feet on the evidence. The sheriff removed his sunglasses and finger-tapped his holster like a gunslinger of old. Dale’s head was in a noose and he had nowhere to go but down. And yet, his only thoughts were of Darla. She ran away. He poured his heart out and she ran away... 



13 July 2012

The Rainbow Over Me

It took thirty hours to travel from Manila to Prague. There were expected hiccups: a frustrating and poorly organized transfer desk in Abu Dhabi. And unexpected hiccups: Paolo getting pulled over on the way to the airport and bribing his way out of a ticket in a town called Mexico.

The trip wasn't easy and it wasn't hard either. It was a task--a stack of papers that had to be dealt with and when I finally left the office I was halfway around the world. Over that thirty-hour period I slept for no more than four. I arrived in Prague at 6am and reached the Blind Eye Hostel at 7am. Check in wasn't until hours later but I didn't care. As always I was too high on arrival to consider sleep. I took a shower, stored my bags and reintroduced myself to the ancient and beautiful streets of Prague.

The architecture in Prague seems too storybook to be real. I ran my hands along walls expecting to feel the bumpy soft texture of paper mache. And I rounded every corner expecting to see scaffolding and lighting crews behind the facade. But, it's all real--an accumulated architectural history dating as far back as AD 920.

That evening the hostel put an interesting spin on the B.Y.O.B concept. They provided beer and the guests brought meat and vegetables and we had a back-patio cookout. I drank a lot of beer and later when we went to a bar called Bukowski's I drank a lot of Jamison's in highball glasses filled to the top. I did what I do; I talked a lot and told stories and tried to make people laugh. The next morning over breakfast I dipped into some narrative or another and the guy sitting next to me said, "Yeah you mentioned that last night" and I realized that I had done what I do a bit too much.

My to-do list was long and important so I shook Bukowski's out of my head and started my day. I dropped my resume off at a couple of schools and emailed a dozen others. I got a Czech phone and used it to set up appointments to view available apartments. And I took a long hot walk across the city to meet a man named Martin and his friend Pavlina.

My mom often says, "You've always had a rainbow over you." It is her way of reminding me that even though I am good at chasing what I want, every now and then I need to stop to appreciate my good fortune.

Mi Madre is a smart lady.

Prior to my arrival I emailed Martin and a half dozen other Prague locals on CouchSurfing.org. I was hoping to find a place to crash for a few days and save myself some money. Only Martin wrote back. He said that he couldn't host me, but that his friend Pavlina might be able to in exchange for English lessons.

I agreed to meet Martin and Pavlina in front of an old church which we quickly walked away from in favor of a beer garden in a park. Over the course of a beer it was decided that I would live with Pavlina and her family until August 1st. Free accommodation in exchange for English lessons. Then for the month of August, I would sublet an apartment from another friend of Martin's who will be in Germany for the month. Her apartment is walking distance from Prague Castle. I did nothing to facilitate this. The whole grand plan was discussed and schemed independent of me. I said very little. I nodded and tried not to screw it up.

Pavlina picked me up at the hostel the following morning. I told her that I would be happy to take public transportation. She insisted that I not. Pavlina and her husband Robert (pronounced: Row-berdt) live in the suburbs outside Prague. They have two young daughters Tereza (7) and Kristina (20 months). The eldest is away visiting her grandmother. Their neighborhood is sleepy and new. The room they have made up for me is the nicest room I've had since I left home.

Pavlina is sweet and happy. She doesn't want me to give her formal lessons. She is a stay at home Mom and wants to fill some of that time practicing her English with a native speaker. That first afternoon we took a walk to the local market. She pushed Kristina in a stroller and I taught her words like, stroller, sidewalk, path and field.

On the way back Kristina refused to walk. She was focused on filling her little white hat with rocks and dumping them out. I hoisted her onto my shoulders and held her little hands and we made our way home. I had only met half the family and I felt fully at ease and that seemed too good to be true. Pavlina spoke to Robert on the phone and informed me that her husband was, "grill meat at home."

"Grilling meat at home," I corrected

"Sacre! (shit!)," she replied. "Yes, grill-ing meat."

As we approached the house I wondered what Robert would think of me; a grown man living in his house free of charge and carrying his baby girl on my shoulders before I had even shaken his hand.

When Kristina saw her Daddy she bounced around squealing and giggling and shouting, "Dada, dada!" He threw his arms wide and I handed her over. He shook my hand and told me that he was happy to have me in his home. He said it with honesty.

About Kristina. I adore this little girl. She has fly-away golden hair and an infectious laugh. She has a trampoline in the backyard that she bounces on singing, "hop, hop, hop." She is too young to realize that the whole world is not a trampoline so she doesn't walk anywhere. She hop, hop, hops through life giggling and laughing.

Robert had already eaten. He was on his way out the door. Bruce Springsteen was opening his European tour that night and Robert wasn't about to miss it.

"That should be a great show," I said. "I'm jealous."

"Why aren't you going,? he replied.

"I just got here on Monday, so..."

"So what?"

Seeing that I didn't quite know how to respond he said, "Wait a moment. Stay here." He went into his office and came out with a huge framed photograph of himself and Springsteen standing with their arms around each other. The picture had to be fifteen years old. Robert and The Boss. He it showed it off with a stoic Eastern European pride that thinly masked his fanboy, "squee!"

The following morning we stood in the kitchen drinking coffee and tea and talking about the concert. Talk about The Boss led to discussions about Czech history, geopolitics and the EU. Robert owns a travel agency and is nearly fluent in English. I asked him how he learned. This is what he said without a trace of bullshit.

"In maybe 1985 I had a Cyndi Lauper album and I listened to it until I remembered all the words and then I practiced."

Radical.

Today is Friday. I met this family on Wednesday. I should feel out of place. I should feel like a stranger walking on egg-shells. I don't. They have treated me like I am a long lost American cousin not some random unemployed dude mooching a room in exchange for conversation. Pavlina did my laundry yesterday. I begged her not to and when I wasn't looking she did it anyway. She even separated the whites and colors which I haven't done since, well...ever. The only feeling of discomfort I've had is pangs of guilt about being spoiled.

They even took me to a castle. Pavlina and Robert discussed it and decided that the Kopopiste Castle would be a good day trip. Pavlina drove. Kristina rode in the back. As we passed through the Czech countryside Pavlina gathered her thoughts and said, "How do you say, big road? High street?"

"Highway," I corrected.

"Ahh! Yes. High way."

I turned back and stuck my tongue out at Kristina. She giggled and bounced on her whole world trampoline.

I rested my head against the window. I looked into the side-mirror searching for the rainbow over me. It had to be there.







  

05 July 2012

A Walk in Intramuros


I have been living well and living easy here in Manila. Paolo’s family has opened their home to me and treated me with incredible kindness. The meals we share at their kitchen table with the Lazy Susan in the center are wonderful—a perfect mix of food and family. Being here has erased some of my homesickness because I have been made to feel so very much at home.

I have not been a traveler here. I have been a guest. I have been doted on and protected. What I’ve seen of Manila I’ve seen from the passenger seat of a car.  Today I chose not to join Paolo on his pre-wedding errands. I wanted to see the city the travelers way—adventurous and unfamiliar.

The Philippines are a part of and apart from the rest of South East Asia. An archipelago comprising 7107 islands the Philippines were colonized by the Spanish, while the majority of mainland South East Asia was being divided between the British and the French.

The parts of Manila I’ve seen are brand new; beautiful high rise condominiums, a bustling financial district, malls filled with American brands. The newness and Western association of Manila is not a bad thing. This is a proud nation that wants its capital city to rival if not surpass, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh—the mega cities of South East Asia.

Nestled in the center of all this newness is Manila’s colonial past, a walled in historical district called, Intramuros. That is what I wanted to see.

Rain had been steadily falling for two straight days. In the early afternoon it finally decided to take a break. I dropped a handful of Pesos into my back pocket and walked to the train station carrying only my camera and a black umbrella with a samurai sword handle incase the grey moody skies decided to open up again.

I stepped off the train and walked down the platform unsure of where Intramuros was, but sure that I could figure it out. At the bottom of the steps I was met by a dozen or more Pedi Cab drivers. A Pedi Cab here is a BMX bike with a sidecar attached. Seeing my pasty skin and vaguely lost look they all started shouting, “Sir! Sir! Immigration. Immigration.” while pointing to their cabs. I waved them off and walked across a park to the mossy crumbling walls surrounding Intramuros.

I stepped through without a map or a plan.

My travels in Asia have desensitized me to the exotic. I no longer get that “I must be dreaming” feeling. But, the loss of awe has been tempered by an increase in calm. I don’t need a map. I don’t need a plan. I have the comfort and experience to get lost in a place.

I wandered the streets of Intramuros, turning when I wanted to turn and stopping when I wanted to stop. The wall was my only point of reference. If I found myself outside it, I turned and walked back through.

There are several Universities in Intramuros and the streets are young and alive. Street food vendors line most of the alleyways. Foot traffic dominates the streets. There are a few small signs of modern life; graffiti art, basketball hoops, 7-11, but for the most part Intramuros is a window into Manila’s, Spanish colonial past.

The Manila region was declared the capital of the Spanish Colony in 1571 and the city walls were built soon after. Architectural highlights of Intramuros include St. Augustine church completed in 1607, the Arch Bishop’s palace and Audiencia the ruins of the former Supreme Court building.

The Philippines broke free of Spanish oppression in 1898 and entered an era of American stewardship. In 1955 they gained full independence. The Spanish influence can still be seen in the faces of the Filipino people, in their food and in their language (Tagalog; a patois of indigenous, Spanish and English words). Beyond these intangibles it is a fading history hidden behind crumbling walls.

I walked around Intramuros for hours. I walked along and on top of the wall. I walked down narrow alleys and through traffic. I walked beneath clouds, sun and rain. I didn’t make friends or stop for lunch. I got lost on purpose and found more than I ever would have with a map and a route.

Being a guest in Paolo’s home has been relaxing and rejuvenating. In this transition between Asia and Europe I needed a bit of home to ground me. But, the Philippines is still a new adventure abroad. I needed to see Intramuros to get a true sense of the place; a sense of the Philippines past present and future. As far as I can see, colonialism is in the past, the American era is lingering in the present and the future is in the hands of the Filipino people. This is their country and the decades to come will be theirs to shape.