It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a “job”) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for three weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Forty-Six), some of the personalities of the new group started to emerge. Brad and Angelina were sharing a room (and a bed) but they were as far from being a romantic couple as Stalin and Hitler. Anita seemed to insist on being the center of attention even though she only ever talked about herself and no one ever seemed to listen. Then there was Adonis, the extremely handsome thirty-something who seemed to have attracted the adulation of Maggie and therefore the scorn of Paul. Adonis had shown his somewhat brazen habit of visually groping every female under eighty years old who was anywhere in the immediate vicinity.
Even though all in the group said that they were interested in joining me for a beer at my favorite bar in town, ultimately I was joined by only Brad (who left after taking a mere two sips from his beer) and Ohmygod. After Ohmygod ordered his second (or was it third?) Molson, I decided to leave the bar and head back to the hotel, taking a circuitous route through the beautifully lit old part of town. In a park just a few meters from the hotel, I heard someone call out my name….
My first impulse was to ignore the beckoning and continue to the hotel, but then the man in the shadows called my name again, this time adding “I need your help!” in a decided American accent. There was no real sense of urgent danger in his voice at all. In fact, it was more the tone of an excited young boy who just found a snail and wanted his father to come and pick it up for him.
So I walked over.
A few feet from the bench, I could make out two distinct figures, who were now untangling themselves as I approached. One was a fairly attractive female who looked somewhat familiar, and the other was… Adonis.
I approached with a certain amount of trepidation since, well, there was a strange, but eerily familiar woman sitting on his lap.
As soon as I got close, Adonis blurted out: “How do you say ‘condom’ in Belgian?”
There was so much wrong with that statement that I really did not know where to begin. Stunned, after a moment to try to digest what exactly I was doing there, I responded:
“‘Belgian’ is not a language.”
Out of all the absurdities packed into the situation, I opted to correct him on a linguistic technicality, which I followed with this brilliant clarification:
“In this part of Belgium, they speak Dutch.”
There I was, in the middle of a park, around midnight, with a guy whom I had just met a few hours before, who had a woman on his lap, asking me how to say ‘condom’ in her native language, and I choose to give the guy a World Languages lesson. I chose not to add that the Belgians actually call their language “Flemish” even though it is Dutch.
“Okaaaay… how do you say ‘condom’ in Dutch then?” he said with more than a tinge of frustration in his voice.
“How the hell would I know? No one speaks Dutch other than the Belgians, and of course, the Dutch.” As soon as I said that, I realized two things: I needed to get the heck out of there as soon as possible and I would never again respond to someone calling my name.
With any hope of quickly extricating myself from the situation fading rapidly, I turned to the young woman perched on his lap and asked her if she spoke French (Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, German, and French). It turns out she did—in fact, she came from the French-speaking section of Belgium and did not even speak Dutch.
What ensued was nothing short of bizarre. This woman (it turns out her name was Giselle) and I proceeded to have a several-minute conversation about Belgium in general, the Dutch-speaking faction in particular (known as the “Flemish”), and the state of University education in the country.
All while Adonis continued to grope her affectionately.
It turned out that Giselle was a student in Ghent, and she and a few friends had made the hour drive to spend the weekend in Bruges. They had been dining in the same restaurant as our group (which is why she looked familiar) and as we were leaving the restaurant, Adonis asked if he could join them.
“Wait, do you speak English?” I asked, in English.
“Yes, of course! Just about everyone in Belgium learns English in school.”
“Uh, then why am I here?”
“Adonis keeps saying that he has a ‘con-dome’ but I have no idea what that means.”
Great, we had come full circle, making an outlandish situation even more uncomfortable.
I decided to just rip that band-aid off and get the heck out of there as quickly as I could.
“Préservatif.” (‘Condom’ in French) I blurted out. “He has a préservatif.”
At this point, a bit shocked, Giselle turned to Adonis who had a sheepish smile on his face, and instantly raised both his eyebrows as if to say “how about it?” Her look quickly changed from astonishment to outrage and in one flawless motion, she hopped off his lap and firmly smacked him across the face.
She then turned and started to briskly walk away before she stopped, turned back toward us, walked over to me, and slapped me across the face. Then she was off again, this time for good.
Not a moment later as I was trying to assess the situation, wondering what I had done to deserve the same treatment afforded Adonis, Don Juan (which was clearly a more apt moniker) started laughing uncontrollably.
Having no idea what to say (and not even sure I wanted to speak at all), I turned around and headed to the hotel, rubbing my cheek and trying to block out the cackling behind me.
The next morning, I was up fairly early as I had a big day planned. We were staying in Bruges another night, so that meant that everyone was pretty much free to do their own thing. I was determined to get a good ride in and I had mapped out a route out to the coast and to cross over the border into the Netherlands.
When I entered the breakfast room in the hotel, I was surprised to see Brad there already, sipping on a cup of coffee, with various pastries on a plate before him. While taking a sip with one hand, he motioned with the other for me to join him at the table for two—making it clear that he was not expecting anyone else (i.e., Angelina).
Just as I sat down, and completely unsolicited, Brad opened up and gave me essentially the entire story (or at least his side of it). It all started, he said, when he saw the ad on Craigslist, placed by Angelina, looking for a “traveling companion.” Brad, who was relatively recently divorced, was ready to “get back in the game” so he answered the ad.
Although he was not “expecting” anything to happen, per se, the two did go for a weekend trip together shortly after he had responded to the ad, and while he did not “seal the deal” there were indications that it might happen at some point in the future.
[At this point, I started rubbing my cheek, remembering the episode in the park, worried that this situation, too, could eventually cause me bodily harm of some sort.]
Thus, based on the promise of that first trip, Brad suggested that the two plan a longer excursion to which Angelina readily agreed. She was the one that wanted to come to Europe, he added, as she had never been before. The trip to Belgium was the one that fit best into both of their schedules, but it was not until he had booked his flight that she let him know that she could not afford the cost of the trip and would have to back out.
It was at that point, Brad admitted, he made a fairly large mistake when he offered to cover the entire cost for her. On the plane ride over, though, it was pretty clear that the trip was not going to end up the way that he had hoped, as after he tried to hold her hand, she immediately asked the flight attendant to change her seat.
Since they landed, they had barely spoken, but Brad was holding out hope that he could “turn things around.” After all, he said, they would be biking for two weeks (I would be their guide for only the first week) and he had requested a single queen-size bed for each of the hotels.
I asked him how they were managing sleeping in the same bed, to which he replied “it is a little awkward” (which might go down as the understatement of the year), but he was determined not to pay another dime for the trip—if she wanted to have separate rooms, she would have to pay for it.
At that moment, Angelina came into the room. Without another word, Brad drained the last few sips of coffee left in his cup, wiped his mouth with his paper napkin, raised his right palm to say “bye” and walked out of the room. The casual observer would swear that the two did not even know each other, and would never guess that they had just slept in the same bed.
Angelina gathered her breakfast items from the bar, and then sat down at a table across the room as if the area around where Brad had been sitting were hopelessly contaminated for the rest of time. For a moment, I contemplated following Brad’s lead and skulking out of the room, but being a glutton for punishment, I asked Angelina if I could join her. It was my job, after all, to make everyone on the trip feel welcome, at least superficially.
She had pulled a stack of papers out of her bag and without looking up, she assented and I sat down. We sat there in silence for two or three minutes as she pored over several white sheets that seemed to be populated with lists of words. After waiting for far too long for some sort of opening, I blurted out: “What are you reading?”
“I am not ‘reading’ I am studying.”
And immediately back into her own little cone of silence.
“OK, what are you ’studying’?” If she was determined to be anti-social, I was equally determined to force her to be at least slightly conversant. Instead of responding verbally, she simply passed me one of the sheets from her stack. Under the header (“4 to make 5”) were several columns of four letter words, followed by a couple of spaces, and then another one to two letters:
... SONE _S SONG _S SONS _Y SOOK _S SOON SOOT _HSY SOPH _SY SOPS SORA _S SORB _S ...
Confused, I asked, “What is this?”
She glanced at the sheet and said “4 to make 5” and immediately returned to her sheet.
“I can see that, but what does it mean?”
Frustrated, she looked up and said curtly “Four letter words that can be changed to five letter words by adding another letter. ‘4 to make 5.’” And she quickly returned to her list.
More confused than before, I opened up my mouth to ask another question, but before the words could come out, and no doubt anticipating the query, she said, without looking up: “I am studying to become a professional Scrabble player.”
“Huh? Those exist?”
She looked up and shot me a glance as if to say “No, I just made that up. Of course they exist, you moron.”
Fascinated, I looked over the list again, shocked at how many four-letter words I did not even recognize.
“What does ‘SOOK’ mean?”
Becoming more agitated, she shot back “How should I know?”
“Didn’t you just say you were studying the words?”
“I said I was studying the words, I did not say I was studying their definitions. I don’t need to know what they mean, I just need to know they are words, and how to spell them.”
With that, she readjusted her chair slightly, pushing herself slightly away from the table, and turning about 30 degrees, thrusting her left shoulder in my direction, making it clear that the conversation was now over.
Taking my cue, I got up, wished her a great day, and headed out to my bike.
I have known for a while that there was a whole lot of crazy in the world, but I never thought I would be exposed to so much of it so quickly.