Two is a Crowd
The Tower in Pisa Finally Tumbles
Parting May Not Be Such Sweet Sorrow
We had separated in Pisa, Italy because we driving each other crazy.
Laura had taken the train to London to stay with a “friend” who was studying there. This was in August of 1990. I was only twenty-one. Three weeks traveling with me through Europe was more than enough.
The full story of Europe and the story of further troubles in England is a miniseries mock-u-melodrama for another time when my tears and shame will become a much longer comedy than this anecdote of humor and humility.
In Pisa, I recall turning my back once, and suddenly Laura, with the blonde hair and slender figure, with the hair in that high, one-can-of-hairspray-a-day-routine, as was the fashion in New Jersey then when a lighted match or a flick of a Bic was a real thing to fear, was surrounded by four Italian guys in the leather market.
Of course, there was a fountain in the middle of the piazza. Was it deep enough to drown my sorrow in?
The stereotype of Italian men is true. Let no one say otherwise. One of those Italian lads had more sex appeal in his pinky cuticle than I did in my whole body. I was slightly overweight then, despite the 20K steps we took each day. I was jealous. Why weren’t they coming on to me? I’m not gay, mind you, but those guys were gorgeous. And would they buy me a leather jacket?
They also didn’t look like they had been backpacking throughout Europe for three weeks either.
Laura wanted to shop. I wanted history. And to trangugiare more Italian food (gobble) and request pastries in a series of ridiculous hand gestures.
Anyway, she had enough of me, and I agreed that I had enough of me, too. I was such a drama king.
The Journal Entry
(Written while on the train from Firenze to Nice) Laura and I are now finally separated. Our dual trip through Europe has ended. We had a big, ugly fight last night that hasn’t been resolved. Hopefully, after a week apart, we can be friends again once I arrive in London. More of this later. (Page 125).
I Survived Without Becoming a Sex Worker. Nice.
So I took the train to Nice and camped out cheaply above a porn shop in some seedy but lively part of that seaside city. I ate three baguettes a day, with delicious jam, and cheese, and shared lonely bottles of red vino on the beaches and park benches and jetties all along the French Riveria. In many ways, I was a lonely gull. Can anyone say “Jonathan Livingstone”?
Whatever that book said, I forget, but it’s probably full of crap too. After all, the damn thing is a seagull! And you should have seen the crap on those rocks!
Jacket and Tie, Required
Once, out of curiosity, I ventured into the Casino at Monte Carlo and the patrons and The Management all agreed that I probably didn’t belong. Was it my beard? Was it my smell? Was it my lack of liquidity?
I missed the company and the arguments with Laura. But the visits to Cannes and St. Tropez were nice. I no longer had to endure the long waits for “hair-styling.” I thought of engaging in conversation with naked French women on the beach or with stylish women in cafes, but Google Translate on a Smartphone didn’t exist then. I thought maybe my problem was English. After all, every woman I liked up until then spoke my language.
But I just gawked as passively as possible and averted my eyes, and wrote enthusiastically back home on postcards with naked women on the beach to my mom and family that I was “really enjoying the scenery” and that “Laura and I had parted” and that “I was finally enjoying myself.”
There were opportunities for female companionship, but this required money, and I’m not sure whatever health care I had would work in France to treat various forms of sexually communicated diseases.
Tan and Pebbles
But my tan was coming along nicely. My hair was lighter but in severe need of a trim. My writing was flourishing, too. I think it took me an hour to figure out how to wash my clothes in the local laundromat. I recall some brisk conversations there in English as I sat on the vibrating dryer. I wish I wrote that dialogue down, but the sexual thrill of the dryer was stimulating.
The pebbles on the beaches hurt my feet in the blistering sun, but the water was lovely. I floated like an otter in the Medittearean, looking back at the hills and the houses and that vibrant blue sky that Van Gogh loved, and I thought: I’m lucky. I just wished I had someone to share this moment with besides my journal and my letters home.
I glanced at a calendar hanging in a local restaurant by the downtown Promenade des Anglais, and I realized that I should be getting back to London. Laura had stored her extra bags there at Heathrow, and I was lugging her other huge suitcase through Europe for three weeks. I didn’t know I signed up as a porter. Lord Bryon made it seem so easy.
So I bid “adieu” to The French Riveria. With only my own dark-green and battered backpack, no longer Laura’s concierge with the additional accouterments, both metaphorical and literal, I felt free and easy and ready to start fresh in a country that spoke The Language of Shakespeare.
Heading Back to England
The TGV was a bullet-shot north to Paris, and then a change over at Gare de Lyon, and then a Metro ride to Gare du Nord and then a quick trip after a fine crossing from France to England, where I met a lovely girl from the States who was studying in London, and then we both took British Rail to London and had a pub lunch and a pint, and she gave me her lodging information for future communication.
I recall glancing at my watch and telling her I needed to meet Laura for our BritRail passage to Newcastle for college.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have stayed there all afternoon with this new girl. She was everything I had been hungry for: she was educated, interested in the arts, loved history, and she laughed at my jokes. Her hair, also, contained no climate-damaging aerosols. But, alas, dear reader, I never saw her again.
Oh, how different my life may have turned out if I stayed with her!
I’m 51 now. No longer 21. Thirty years have passed, and I’m reading my journal and laughing and looking at pictures of people who no longer look like this. Many of the places still look the same, like Pisa, at least the touristy places of Pisa, the way a nightingale still looks and sounds the same. I’m in my study, looking at the snow out of the window from my home in New Jersey. I now coach English and write 6,000 words a day, now that I’m on medication.
My daughter, Nancy, now almost 20, just told me “she’s going for a walk.” She’s been home for college due to the quarantine at college. My awesome wife of twenty-six years works quietly in her sewing room, working on graduate school and projects. After years of being a dietitian and a teacher for nine years in Family and Consumer Science, she’s awaiting her certificate to teach elementary school from the state.
My daughter, Madeline, is 23 and in graduate school at Georgia Tech, studying aerospace.
So many different points that could have changed all of this. It’s just interesting to have some time to reflect on how in the hell I got here, and how fortunate I have been. It was like spending years as a pinball, being flung here and there at rapid speeds, spitting out colors and spinning wheels, and each contact shaped the ball somehow, someway, and when it finally came to rest, the ball found its way home at a dance in Philadelphia, where I finally felt free with Mary Jane.
And then a new game began.
Thank you for reading!