by Dave B
A comical look at my travels to Spain and the unlikely events that happen.
|I am a person that probably should never have left home. I lose everything (you think I’m exaggerating. As I sit, my debit card and driver’s license is 200 miles away on a counter, my car tabs are God knows where, and I have lost over 100 CDs, rollerblades, watches, innumerable sunglasses, probably 5 leather belts, and the list could continue if I would let my mother chime in). Also, in order to get a good night’s sleep at any place, I need a bed with no top sheet, a quilt-like blanket (the best is a sleeping bag unzipped laid out like a comforter), and a large fan that can lift me up right off the bed if I position my body right. Needless to say these personal attributes are not conducive to travel. Yet, in the spring of my junior year, I embarked with several of my classmates to Spain and haven’t looked back since.
We loaded the bus on a cold, March morning in Hermantown, MN with 30 kids, three adults, and overstuffed luggage (Sometimes, it was difficult to tell which were which). We arrived at the Minneapolis airport and were delighted to find out that our gate would be a witty double entendre: E2 (“y tu?” Spanish for “and you?”). As always, when traveling in groups this large, we made it into the airport right as the Wright brothers were putting their finishing touches on the first airplane, so we had a substantial wait.
As we wandered through the airport, we all were buying the last minute essentials for the trip: magazines for the airplane, film for our cameras, candy bars and pop because we hadn’t eaten in ten minutes. I, on the other hand, sat with my passport in hand amazed that I had kept it this long and browsed through stores looking for a long-lasting adhesive to affix it to a suitable part of my body (maybe the lower back? Somewhere that didn’t have much contour). I also continued to make sure that I had my pain medicine in my jacket. I had a tumor removed from my arm a few days prior (malignant, almost lost my arm. That’s a complete lie.) and was still trying to get rid of the tightness around the incision. Finally, boarding time came and we hurried onto the plane to embark on our adventure.
I hurried up and stowed all my gear in the overhead compartment and got ready for the trip. I never realized how boring flying was minus the take-off and landing until that trip. Somehow I had not gotten the correct headphones (you know, the two-pronged ones that the airlines use so no one steals them. I mean, who wouldn’t want those high quality headphones. I stole them just to stick it to the man). Therefore, I would only hear corresponding laughter to comical parts in whatever movie they were watching. As I was too young to booze, I silently read a boring book and prayed for sleep.
When we finally did land in Madrid, it was like landing in a different country (yes, you’re right, it is!). We wheeled around in excitement as we explored our new surroundings. Finally, we were herded like cattle to our coach busses that would be our home-away-from-home during the trip. I rummaged through my luggage looking for my medicine. That’s when I remembered I put the medicine in my jacket, and my jacket…oh hell…was still sitting in the overhead compartment of the airplane. My first casualty on the trip. The bus rumbled on.
The trip truly began when the bus pulled into a gas station in Segovia and our homestay parents were waiting to take us. We all window-shopped from the bus hoping fate would bring us together with certain people. Every guy had his eye on one young girl in particular. She was drop-dead gorgeous, long hair, long legs, and a perfect smile. As each pair of partners were called off and paired with their homestay, we would cheer when they were placed with the old woman with the mole or the weird guy with the cane leaving our Lolita free to be our potential dream homestay. Every guy prayed fervently, the Catholics pulled out their rosaries, The Fundamentalists promised great deeds of faith or great sacrifices in return, the Pentecostals began praying in tongues, and the atheist sat in the corner figuring odds for his pairing. As numbers dwindled, there were still a group of about ten guys on the bus and the rivalry was intensifying.
“Joe and Frank,” called our tired, frazzled teacher Senora Bynum. They got up, giving a hopeful glance in the direction of the Angel, only to have their dreams crushed as they were handed to an older couple. You would think that they had been steered into the “gassed” line at Auschwitz. They did their best to pretend to be happy as they shook the hands of their homestays, but you see the corners of their lips quivering as disappointment and moisture gathered in their eyes. A thunderous roar was heard from bus as each of us lived one more round.
Finally, it was down to four pairs. “Jared and Eric,” Senora Bynum called from the front. They both got up with their fingers crossed and prepared for the choice that would bring utter ruin or unbridled elation. They slowly descended the corrugated metal stairs into the arms of this latin goddess. They had got her! The bus collectively moaned, swore, and renounced our religious leanings as we saw the angel of beauty walk away from the bus with Eric and Jared. Each gave a haughty thumbs-up to the bus, and we returned the salute with a different digit.
“Brady. Dave.” Brady and I slowly stood up knowing that there weren’t too many great options left. As long as we didn’t get that fat mean looking guy with the white hair…why, hello fat guy. You’re going to be our homestay! Awesome! I wish I had that bottle of painkillers now. He gruffly grabbed a few of our things and pointed up a hill towards his home. Others may have been picked up and driven to their place of temporary residence, but we were going to hoof it. He introduced himself as Jesus (yes, like our Lord and Savior, except pronounced hey-sus). Only later would we learn that this name would contain no foreshadowing as to his character or hospitality throughout the stay.
I’m not sure why we didn’t drive, because the distance was substantial and uphill. Both Brady and I had two large rolling suitcases that we were trying to maneuver up the uneven, cobblestone roads. As soon as we began catching up to Jesus (who apparently was a famous Spanish sprinter in his former life), one of our bags would catch on a crack and flip which would delay us. As we continued the climb of hell, he would periodically turn around and say the equivalent of, “harder!” I wanted to tell him that he could drag his fat ass back here and carry some of my bags if he would like the process to quicken, but at that point, my Spanish was only sufficient to murmur, “Si.” But I hoped the harsh tone of my, “Si” would send the same message.
When we breathlessly arrived at his home, my lungs were thanking me for the rest until he cracked the door and a wall of smoke hit us (at which point my lungs called me a dirty bastard and have refused to dialogue since). He quickly showed us to our rooms where we dumped our bags on the bed. He then invited us to sit and wait for his wife in the living room. He said she would be arriving shortly to make dinner and hopefully provide some form of entertainment. So, we sat, dreadfully tired, watching Spanish entertainment television. Both of us knew that it would be entirely rude to fall asleep, so we propped our eyes open hoping for an imminent return of the mother of the house.
The first hour passed by slowly. Many times Jesus peered at the door in obvious disgust that his wife hadn’t returned, mumbling Spanish swear words under his breath. As the second hour passed, my eyelids started to droop, and both Brady and I were thinking of creative ways we could excuse ourselves. The only entertainment for the evening was when Pamela Anderson came on TV, and he turned to us and gestured to his chest exclaiming, “Grande titas.” I think I knew the translation. My mind started to wander towards what could have been had we been the lucky ones to receive the latin angel. She would probably be feeding me chocolate covered strawberries in a bath while cooking a wonderful meal. Instead, I’m stuck here in this tobacco-strewn house with this fat pervert talking about Pamela Anderson’s boobs.
In disgust, I quietly excused myself to the bathroom (or as I call it, a closet that happened to have a bathroom in it). There was a nice ripe stench within the bathroom, which I had expected, so I quickly went about my business (which didn’t take long, because I really didn’t have to go. I just would rather be breathing in waste fumes than be in the presence of Jesus). As I washed my hands, I noticed a bidet. These things are disgusting enough by themselves; to sit after you’ve crapped and have a little anus-fountain seems disturbing. Yet even more disturbing was the Sponge. This was not any sponge, this was the bidet Sponge. It had been yellow in its previous life, but now was stained brown from use. After my gag reflexes recovered, I could not rid my mind of the image of Jesus leaning over the bidet rubbing this sponge in indescribable locations. Every day after that, Sponge would taunt me as I entered the bathroom.
“Aren’t you gonna have a look, chico,” Sponge sniggered quietly. I tried to ignore it’s pleas but again it yelled, “Yo, gringo, I’m over here. Just one little look won’t hurt.” I turned my head slowly to Sponge. Once my eyes fell on his gruesome figure, I turned away and shuddered. “That’s right, hombre,” Sponge cackled. “I’m more than you can handle.” He would continue to berate me throughout my stay, but for now I hurried out of the bathroom and took my seat in between Jesus and Brady.
As the third hour rolled by, it became apparent that Mrs. Jesus was not going to be making an appearance to cook dinner. Jesus realized that this responsibility would fall to him. He gave a low grunt, a few words of Spanish, and stumbled towards the kitchen. We heard pans fall, more Spanish swearing, and Brady and I took these few precious moments alone to commiserate.
“Dave, I can’t keep my eyes open. I’ve got to go to bed,” Brady complained rubbing his eyes wildly.
“It’s not much better from where I’m sitting. But we have to wait ‘til “Grande titas” comes back with our food. Can you believe he actually said that?” I enquired.
”That’s the only highlight of the night,” Brady replied. We again sat in silence as we awaited the second coming of Jesus. He finally did arrive with two plates. He motioned for us to come sit at the table, which we did reluctantly. He then placed before us each a plate with two breaded fillets. There are no real words to describe it. It was a mix between a fish fillet and a grilled cheese sandwich. The real kickers were the pools of grease that sat like puddles in a parking lot after a rainy day on top of the breaded portion. The smell alone made me long for a conversation with Sponge. We both knew that we had to choke down whatever meal was given to us or our teachers would kill us, so we silently forced the food down. As each bite went down my throat, my gag reflex sat on the verge of protest only being suppressed by my good manners. We finally finished and perfected a hasty retreat into our bedroom.
Each morning, we woke up and went to the breakfast table to be served four slices of toast and this weird hot chocolate except with whole milk. I am not much of a breakfast eater, So Brady and I made a deal that I would drink that disgusting chocolate fat if he would eat my bread. I usually took the drink like an unusually large shot, plugging my nose and throwing it down. We would then make the hike to the bus stop and prepare for another day of touring.
I would describe the touring in detail, but it almost the same everywhere: a museum here, a landmark there, the usual. The highlight of this portion of the trip was the use of the word “Focker.” You see, this was shortly after “Meet the Fockers” came out, and we decided that the word “focker” could become a nice substitute for the f-bomb. While this seems like a tame amusement, to a Christian boy that was taught never to swear, this letter change was liberating. Each landmark became, “a big focker,” or if I stepped on my friend Leslee’s toe she would shout, “Whatch the fock where you’re going.”
Museums were even more entertaining. The first few, I tried very hard to be interested or at least feign interest. My sister, Jessica (who was also on the trip) is very good at this. She’s a people pleaser and was therefore at the front of every tour group listening intently to the broken English of the tour guide. I usually was the rear guard of the tour group with two other girls: Leslee and Tiffany. What we would do was play a game to see if one could get the other in trouble. This may mean grabbing Leslee’s camera, setting it to flash, and waiting for her to get reamed out by the tour guide flash nazi. Another time, Tiffany grabbed my hand and almost made me touch a priceless Stradivarius violin. The last was when we were in the sacred Muslim temple, the Alhambra. We were walking amidst all of these sacred pools when I felt a shove from behind. I had to leap over a pool and just barely avoided touching any sculptures. During these times, my sister would throw a condescending “grow up” look behind her, but the excitement of almost ruining sacred/priceless art was exhilarating.
Each night, as the bus rolled back into the gas station, both Brady and I would look at each other with a mirrored-face of foreboding as we made or way back to Jesus’ hell. As we opened the door, a newspaper was spread out across the tile flooring soaking up some unidentified liquid. As I was stepping over this disgusting urine-soaked media, I looked up and saw a young man starring at me standing next to Jesus. Jesus introduced his college-age son: Jesus. “Jesus, another Jesus,” I thought to myself. So know I was in a room with double the Jesus, double the fun (I don’t think Doublemint would touch this combo with a 10 foot stick (of gum)). As we sat, the two Jesus’ began to fight. As we watched this Jesus vs. Jesus battle royale, we sought to look inconspicuous. The fight ended when Jesus struck Jesus Jr. and told him to leave. Nothing like a little domestic violence to make your visitors feel right at home. Both Brady and I quickly pretended that we were exhausted from the long day, locked ourselves in our room, and played chess with a set I had bought for my parents. Oh, and by the way, the entire house continued to smell like cigarette piss. Earlier that day, I had bought a rose-scented rosary for my grandma at one of the local cathedrals. Because of the overwhelming smell, I apologized in my heart to all pious Catholics and slipped the rosary around my neck with the cross around my nose to obfuscate the stench. I slept in this fashion for the entire duration of our stay at la casa de Jesus.
We left Jesus’ house after the four longest days of my life. We drove down to Granada during Semana Santa, or Holy Week. The Spanish have a tradition (as does most of Latin America) of having processionals in which each day of Holy Week is represented in what best can be described as a parade float carried by men of the community. It was Good Friday, and my new homestay (a perfectly delightful woman) took us to watch. As we silently waited, I tried to repress all memories of Jesus’ house of horrors. As I was beginning to enjoy the beginning of the parade, I raised my eyes in horror as Jesus on the cross paraded down the street. It was then I realized that it would take significant time, counseling, and prayer to see, hear, or speak the name Jesus without an automatic transference of Jesus Christ to Jesus the hellion.