Lost in Germany

We found an auditorium where a heavy metal band was playing. Thick smoke floated above our heads. Red laser beams flashed in the air. People danced with their eyes closed, waving their arms in slow motion, grasping at imaginary objects with their fingers. I watched them with nervous curiosity.

After the show was over, I stumbled into the street with Greg and Jesse. It was time to return to the youth hostel. We walked down a staircase in the sidewalk, into the concrete labyrinth where the subway trains lived. We boarded a train and rode through the tunnel a few minutes. Then we stepped off and climbed another set of stairs.

When we reached the top of the stairs and looked around, we didn’t recognize the signs and buildings around us. We had gotten off at the wrong stop. We didn’t know where we were. It was almost eleven o’clock. And we couldn’t call our teacher on our cell phones because we didn’t have cell phones. It was 1998.

So we rambled through the streets, asking strangers for directions to the youth hostel where we were staying. Most of them were friendly and polite, but they had never heard of the Jump In Youth Hostel. We even found a black taxi cab parked indiscreetly on the sidewalk, a common practice in Germany. The driver sat behind the wheel, sipping coffee and listening to the radio. We eagerly asked him to take us to the Jump In Youth Hostel, but he shook his head and started pointing, giving us directions in German. None of us understood German well enough to know what he was saying. We mumbled “danke” and walked away, disappointed and discouraged.

We walked through the subway and found a group of policemen playing cards in a small, dirty room with pictures of naked women plastered on the walls. We explained our predicament to them. They also gave us helpful directions in German.

***

You’ve been reading an excerpt from How to Make an Artist Miserable. The Kindle version is free May 19-23. The paperback version is $5 plus shipping and handling as always.

You can click here to order a copy.

Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.

Barack Obama and the Interstellar Highway

Barack Obama rode his silver unicorn down the Interstellar Highway. He sat up straight in the saddle, smiling at all the stars and galaxies. The Interstellar Highway was made of green, translucent pavement. It looked like an emerald that stretched on forever and ever, shimmering in the dim starlight. A steady current of air blew along the highway all the time, allowing Barack to breathe easily. He didn’t have to worry about a space helmet or a cumbersome oxygen tank. He just wore a black business suit and a light blue tie. His tie flapped gently in the cool breeze.

A little shortwave radio was tucked inside one of the saddle bags. Cuban dance music poured out of the speaker. The drums, the maracas, the acoustic guitars, and the wild piano gave him a warm, happy feeling inside. His soul tingled. He tapped his feet in the stirrups.

Up ahead, he saw a restaurant attached to the edge of the emerald highway. A neon pumpkin flashed on top of it.

Barack leaned back and tugged on the reins.

“Let’s stop here, Jerry,” he said.

The unicorn slowed to a stop. Barack switched off the radio and dismounted. For a moment, he smoothed out the wrinkles in his business suit. He raised his chin and adjusted his neck tie with a quick tug.

Then he pushed open the door and stepped into the restaurant. He was the only customer in the building. He looked around at all the empty chairs. The orange walls were decorated with bats. The front counter was black and covered with fake spider webs. The cash registers looked like tombstones.

A young woman slouched behind the counter. She had short pink hair and green eyes. She looked bored and sleepy. She stared down at a plastic tray on the counter like she was in a trance.

“Welcome to Halloween,” she said in a dull monotone without looking up.

“Good evening,” Barack Obama said, approaching the counter. “I would like to place an order for a bowl of chili and a large Frankenstein milkshake.”

Behind the counter, there was a wall that was supposed to look like stone. In the middle of this wall, there was a doorway. Barack Obama peeked through the doorway into the kitchen area. He saw an old woman with a hairnet carrying a large bag. Barack thought it was a bag of flour.

“Would you like to try our fried scorpions?” said the girl with the pink hair. “They’re only ninety-nine cents. They come with your choice of honey mustard sauce or sweet and sour sauce.”

Barack held his head high and clasped his hands together in front of his body. “Today, I only want to concentrate on the chili and the Frankenstein milkshake. But please don’t feel discouraged. Don’t cast away your hope. I’m not rejecting the scorpions altogether. In the future, you and I will engage in an open, candid discussion about the other food items you offer. I look forward with great anticipation to all the wonderful meals that lie ahead.”

“Okay,” the girl said, tapping the buttons on the tombstone cash register.

Barack opened his wallet and handed her some cash.

“I’m so pleased to be back here in the Upper Universe,” Barack said, glancing out the window at the stars. “I spent a great many years down in the Lower Universe. It was dark and tedious. Time passes at a much slower rate in that dimension, you know. And they don’t have emerald highways that alter reality and shorten distances. Down there, you have to travel in cars, trains, and airplanes. It’s outrageously slow. But I accomplished many things I’m very proud of. I was the president of a large country. And I also did some surfing. I’m pleased with all those things. Very pleased.”

“Do you want crackers with your chili?” the girl asked.

“Yes, please,” said Barack. “Give me a pack of oyster crackers. No, make that two packs of oyster crackers. Do you know where I’m going now? I’m on a trip to Andromeda. The ruler of that galaxy is a huge, magnificent sloth with sixteen heads. I wrote a haiku poem about him on a grain of rice. I wrote it with a pair of tweezers and a molecule. It was a difficult task, but I feel like the poem was a good one. And he enjoyed it as well. He’s going to present me with an award for it. I’m humbled and honored to accept it.”

“Here’s your food,” the girl said.

She handed him a small plastic pumpkin with chili inside it. Then she gave him an orange paper cup dotted with bats. It was filled with cold, green slop.

“What an extraordinary meal,” Barack said. “I look forward to eating it. I look forward to it with great anticipation.”

“Don’t forget your oyster crackers,” the girl told him.

She gave him two packs of oyster crackers. Barack tore them open and sprinkled the crackers in the chili. Then the girl gave him a couple of plastic spoons. He picked up his chili and his milkshake and carefully made his way to one of the tables.

He sat down at the table, smiling. He admired his food for a long time before he began to eat it. When he did start to eat, he closed his eyes and savored each bite. He thought about how good it felt to be back in the Upper Universe. He loved traveling among the stars with his silver unicorn again. It was so much better than the White House.

While he finished his meal, he heard a loud smacking noise somewhere in the kitchen area. He looked toward the front counter. Now the old woman with the hairnet was talking to the girl with the pink hair. They were leaning close to each other and whispering frantically.

“The bag,” the old woman was saying. “You know, the big bag. The one with all the scorpions in it. I accidentally dropped it. It hit the floor and busted wide open. All the scorpions came out.”

“How are we going to catch them?” said the girl with the pink hair. “There’s way too many.”

The old woman moaned. “I reckon we’ll just have to stomp them all. Stomp them as fast as we can.”

Barack noticed something moving on the floor near the end of the counter. A herd of shiny red scorpions ran across the floor in a high-speed exodus.

Barack grinned. He took one last sip of his Frankenstein milkshake and stood up. He walked out of the restaurant. Outside, his unicorn still waited patiently by the front door. Barack reached inside the saddle bag and pulled out the shortwave radio. It was a gray rectangle no bigger than a deck of cards. He switched it on with a flick of his thumb. Cuban dance music burst out of the speaker. It was a tiny speaker, but the sound quality was superb. His spine tingled as he heard the fast-paced drums, the maracas, the acoustic guitars, and the wild piano. It was the most glorious sound he had ever known.

Barack walked back into the restaurant. By this time, the floor was covered with red scorpions, running in every direction, celebrating their new freedom. Barack placed his radio on the table. He raised his hands in the air and began to snap his fingers. He tapped his feet. Then he flung himself across the room in a flurry of wild movement, dancing so fast that his legs became a blur. The music flowed through his body like electricity through a power station. He crushed hundreds of scorpions under his heels in time with the music. He leapt over tables and soared through the air, smiling the whole time. His face glowed with joy.

The girl and the old woman stared at him with their mouths open.

Soon, only a few scorpions were left alive. Barack Obama crossed his arms over his chest and started hopping on one foot. He bounced across the room like a pogo stick, killing the last of the scorpions. He continued to smile and glow.

When all the scorpions were dead, Barack stood tall and proud in the center of the restaurant.

“Thank you,” said the girl with the pink hair. “Thank you so much.”

“Sometimes life calls us to take action in ways we never could have anticipated,” Barack Obama said, straightening his suit and adjusting his tie. “In these moments, we have to find the strength inside us to answer that call. When life gives you scorpions, don’t let fear grip your heart. Don’t collapse. Don’t falter. Instead, turn on your radio. Turn on the Cuban dance music and complete the task that lies in front of you. Good night, my friends.”

Then he picked up his shortwave radio and walked out the door, into outer space. He climbed onto his silver unicorn and continued on his journey down the Interstellar Highway.

© 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.

Martha Berry’s backyard

Image

Image

In 1998, I almost became a foreign exchange student. I use the word “almost” because real exchange students generally spend an entire year in a foreign country, attending school and speaking the language of the locals. But when I traveled to Germany fifteen years ago with some other students from Model High School, my experience was somewhat different. The trip only lasted three weeks. And I wasn’t officially a “student,” you see. I just sat around in various classrooms, doodling on pieces of paper and wondering what the people around me were saying. (I can speak German, but I’m not exactly fluent.)

For two weeks, I lived with a wonderful family in Heidelberg. (Or was it Weinheim? I can’t remember now.) The family spoke excellent English and took very good care of me. When I wasn’t using up the oxygen at school, they took me to museums, carnivals, restaurants, and castles. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Since then, we’ve kept in touch.

Wolfgang and Regine, my “German parents,” came to Georgia last week to visit my parents and me. It was their first stop in a long, meandering vacation all over Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. (Their sons, Jochen and Matthias, stayed behind in Germany. They’ve visited before, though. Jochen came here in October, actually. I introduced him to Steak n Shake and all its glorious American cholesterol.)

I’m not a morning person, but I got up early this past Saturday so I could spend the whole day with my German friends. I drove to my parents’ house, half-asleep and barely functioning, and drank coffee with Wolfgang, Regine, and my parents. Then all five of us squeezed into my dad’s car.

If you’re entertaining visitors from another country, you don’t want to bore them to death with Wal-Mart or a neighborhood yard sale. You want to show them a landmark you’re proud of, something grand and noteworthy. So we went to Martha Berry’s house and took a guided tour. It was an incredible place, especially the library, and the gardens outside were mind-bogglingly beautiful. I felt like I had stepped into a Pinterest photo. And the tour guide was witty and charming.

Afterward, we rambled all over the Berry College campus, admiring the elegant stone buildings and almost running over the teenage girls who had flocked there to be photographed in their prom dresses.

From there, we went to my apartment in the backwoods of Chattooga County, so Wolfgang and Regine could see where I live now. Then we headed back to Rome and ate at the Homestead Restaurant (one of the best restaurants on earth) just as a thunderstorm rolled in. After we left the Homestead and went back home, the five of us sat in my parents’ living room for a long time, laughing and telling stories, while the lightning flashed outside and the electricity threatened to sputter out. Around midnight, Wolfgang and Regine told us goodbye and went back to their hotel. I was thrilled to spend the day with them, but I was sad to watch them drive away in the rain.

The next morning, they caught a plane to Florida. They’re in Miami now, I believe.

I apologize if I’ve bored you senseless with all these tedious little details. I’m mainly doing it for my own benefit, so I can remember everything later. I want to preserve this past Saturday, to hold onto it forever, the same way you might press a four-leaf clover between the pages of a book so that you can pull it out and look at it again later.

(I wish I could say I took these photos, but I didn’t. My mother did.)

My novel, Under the Electric Sun, is available on Kindle. It’s a dystopian science fiction story about a boy, a cybernetic raccoon, and a large insect from another planet. You can click here to download it.

Plane

Early this morning, I dreamed I was sitting on a plane, waiting for it to take off. I was about to go to Germany. There was a stewardess and a few other passengers hanging around inside the plane with me, making small talk and pacing around. The atmosphere was extremely casual. Ridiculous, actually. I hadn’t even bought a ticket yet, but they were still letting me sit there.

Then I pulled out my wallet and counted my money. I didn’t have as much as I had thought, but I did notice a couple of twenty dollar bills, wadded up and crammed in one end of the wallet.

I asked the stewardess how much it cost to ride the plane. I don’t remember what she told me, but the amount she asked for was more than I had. So I got up and shuffled off the plane, feeling embarrassed and bummed out.

In the next scene, I was walking quietly through Kroger with my mother, watching her place items in her buggy. I still felt disappointed.

I need to mention that I went on a school trip to Germany in 1998 and spent three weeks there. I stayed with a family there for two of those weeks. They’re wonderful people. I still keep in touch with them. In my dream, I was excited about visiting them again and seeing all the castles, cathedrals, villages, trains, and ice cream shops.

I’m not sure what the dream meant. But I thought I would write about it here so I can remember it later.

Also, I’m sorry for the sloppiness of these blogs. I used to write for a newspaper, and I was pretty good at writing in a hurry. But that was a long time ago. I still write on a regular basis, but I mostly do fiction now. I believe in the importance of a strong work ethic, but I’m not used to popping out little nuggets like this every day. I generally write something … and then I dilligently re-write it … and re-write it … and re-write it. So I feel embarrassed about the quality of these posts. I’m afraid I’ve been churning out crap for the last three days.