Daniel Adler Sobers Up

polish blacksmith
A Polish Blacksmith.

I wanted to go out after the five hour bus ride– Krakow!

A tall woman with big blue eyes in a yellow pea coat asked me if I needed help when I was looking at the tram map. She rode with me and asked for my blog address and told me where to get off. She spoke five languages and is in med school. I didn’t even get her name but as I was about to leave I saw in her eyes a glossy reflection of my desire to be a person she could know. But in getting to know her I’d tire of her personality, the way she eats, how she grooms her body, so in a way, because I only knew her for a moment, she stayed intact and pure in my short-term memory as kind and beautiful– her image won’t be disrupted by the human details that turn me off and out, and thus I’ll forget her.

I could barely stand being attracted to the hostel receptionist with her dimpled chin and big blinking blue eyes and blonde side bangs, and tight petite body. She was wearing all black with a black and white graphic tee and blazer over it with black pants with gold zippers on the thighs and black shoes. She wants to be a juvenile detention center worker. I said, “You have a big heart,” but she played it off, “No…” She was so helpful when I asked her what to do and where to go, that after eating dinner in the Jewish Quarter at a restaurant where they played “Take My Breath Away,” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and served potato pierogis with goulash and minced carrot and coleslaw salad, and ice cold beer and I smoked a cigarette inside, I thought about getting a bottle of vodka and returning and proposing to her, Joanna, that we relax and drink together.

When I came back, she didn’t expect to see me. She did the head flip, to get her hair out of her eyes. She said, “Did you go?”

I said, “I did. But I thought, why go to the bar when I would so much rather sit and talk with you?” She smiled and stood and pulled a beer from her closet. “I have one beer. We can share.”

“I bought a bottle of vodka.”
“Whichever you prefer. I just have to do one more thing.”
“Take your time,” I said. “I’m in no rush.”
Fifteen minutes later, I expected her to be ready to play and so I emerged, bottle in hand, and placed it near her reception desk only to find her still busy. “Everyone wants something from me at once,” she said. I wasn’t worried, I said I’d explore the hostel, and walked to the common room where two fat Americans sat. Joanna was still busy, so I messed around on my computer. Near the hour mark I wanted to take the bottle back and sneak into my room and go to sleep. I sneakily walked to the bottle, and since she was looking down I thought that if I ducked she wouldn’t see me from behind her desk.

I snatched it and loudly stumbled forward. I stood up straight. “Are we drinking tonight?” she asked. My face was bright red; I was embarrassed because she caught me but I wondered if I should be embarrassed at all. All I could do was play it off, “Yeah, of course.”

“I just need one more minute.”

“Take your time, I’m in no rush, I’m just hanging out. Here in Krakow…” And I turned around to write this embarrassing moment, which I tried to play down by asking the girl at the nearby computer, who laughed during the scene, if she wanted some vodka. She didn’t so I thought about taking a sip, but thought better of it, because it would be apparent that I was getting drunk while waiting for her.

I decided at 12:52 that Joanna had eight minutes before I fell out of love with her. How deep is my love? An hour strong? The minutes passed. I went to sleep Irishly.

Last night I dreamed of India again. It was manageable this time. I worried about Joanna in my semilucid earlymorning state. I felt like I had to confess to someone, so I went to the reception to find out when she works next, so I could avoid her or plan an explanation and try to rebound my game. A short-haired woman sat there. I didn’t think so much of her but when she came into the kitchen to check the coffee pot she was tall with a beautiful figure, thin and rounded where it counts, with long eyelashes and brown bedroom eyes. I thought I’d be able to flirt with her by asking what to do today.

She suggested a movie. I said, “What about a cafe?” And as she stood to mark where the cafe was, I told her “You’re great. When I saw you this morning it made me so happy.” It did! To see a beautiful woman, first thing in the morning, it’s like seeing a sunrise or waking to Walden pond. She ignored me and smiled. After she wrote the directions, I asked, “What time do you get off?”

“Four, but I am from Wroclaw, so I’m going home for the weekend,” which made me sad. I asked her about Joanna. She said “I’m Joanna.”

“You gotta be kiddin,” I said.

“There are three Joannas,” she said. I couldn’t believe it, each one was better than the last. I started to get excited about meeting the next Joanna. “Is this some kind of joke?” She erupted into uncontrollable laughter while I tried to remember what I was going to ask her– Auschwitz, book a tour, anything to spend another few minutes with her, and it was then, when she tried to suppress her laughter, managing only to keep it to a giggle, that I fell out of love with the first Joanna. I asked her to write the name of the cafe, and when she stood I leaned in to smell her, but I could only smell myself. She was left-handed and when I pointed it out and said me too, she responded with the proud smile of a lefty knowing the challenges and ostracism other lefties face. I said, “See you soon,” and she said, “See you soon.”

I’ll never see her again.

I walked through the cold rainy day thinking about Prague and Vienna and Moscow and the other places I’ve been, about how old the old square is, about how the colors and the people are Polish, and not Czech or Russian. Comparing Krakow to Warsaw was easier. Krakow is welcoming, and even though it’s full of tourists, it’s warm and historical and proud, even on a day like today. Warsaw is still licking its wounds and my generation is the first that can honestly be proud to live there and call themselves Polish, not Soviets and not War-Sufferers.

I wanted to see DaVinci’s “Lady With an Ermine,” but the museum is undergoing renovations for the next five years and the painting won’t be on display for months. This disappointed me. But I was resilient as I walked around the Wawel castle courtyard, under the budding magnolia tree, past the lush green. It’s funny how a soft spring rain can make everything greener.

When I saw the baroque church and the renaissance architecture I was very satisfied. I fulfilled my plan for the day by going to an English bookstore. I bought the Bhagavad Gita. I went around the corner for a $2 aubergine and courgette and pepper and onion sandwich, a delicious little snack I could have eaten two of, but I instead preferred  macchiato and Schopenhauer. While I read the first book of The World as Will and Representation I couldn’t contain my annoyance at the man coughing in the other room. He was short and fat with blonde cropped hair and his cough was the kind that can’t be stifled, that bubbles up every three to five minutes like a loud guffaw, like he was proud to be sick.

As I read, I thought about the oneness between the world we perceive and who we are, and about Facebook and what I will write next, and how reading this is hard, how I’m bad at philosophy, but I finished it. And it was like I had metamorphosed. I had no desire to party. I regretted buying that bottle of vodka; I’m not going to drink it. The me that tried to seduce Joanna feels like ages ago. After returning to academia I felt more virtuous but less alive. Perhaps that’s a sign of immaturity. Or lack of practice. I left after an hour, after I’d finished reading what I’d wanted to, and a Spanish couple had moved in behind me.

Today I read more than I’ve read in three months. It was refreshing, not because I found inspiration from the fresh ideas swimming through my brain, but because I remembered how much more there is to read. I thought about what Grandma and Thoreau said, how you should be able to sit by yourself and listen to your thoughts. Boredom should be impossible.

Why travel at all? What you seek is within. I guess it’s taking you to see and live different things to find that out. Rather ironic. I should have been able to find myself sitting in a black cell for eight hours a day meditating. Abstemious Daniel gets his turn. For now. One thing’s for sure– I ain’t going out in India.

That’s what you think…

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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