Whose Bed Is This Anyway

“Get in bed with Agnes,” Oliver tells me.  He has appeared out of nowhere, sometime between when I fall asleep at 5 a.m. and when I wake up some 4 hours later.  “Here,” he says, “Take off your shoes.”  He’s the alcoholic mother I never had.

Oliver ushers me towards some stranger’s very white bed, where Agnes is currently buried somewhere deep.

“Rush en bark tuff tuft.”

The noise comes from the sheets.

“What?” Oliver asks, leaning towards her.

“Brack tree fee miss grit.”

“Bunch of rubbish,” he says, and then covers me with a cotton duvet before disappearing out the door and into the hallway where all the noise and cigarette smoke is being imported in from the living room.

I wake up to white walls and the same muttering ginger.  I have no idea what time it is or what time the party finished.  It’s finally warm in the apartment and I begin to sweat a bit under my multiple winter layers, which should come as no surprise being as I am dressed for the dead of winter and not bedtime.  Oh God, how I want to change my clothes, how badly do I want a glass of water and a prescription strength Tylenol, how horribly I just want to barf.

Someone turns the shower on.

I walk out of the bedroom and assess the damage: empty bottles, heaps of shoes, two boys sleeping on the tiny sofa, neither or whom are Oliver, my now-negligent caretaker.  I head back into the bedroom where I fold my body into the crevice of the loveseat again.

The shower shuts off and I watch as a girl wrapped in a white towel passes sideways down the hallway.  Laura James.  Laura Jean.  What’s her fucking name? 

Oh!  Now I remember where I am.

It’s Laura J-Name’s bed I stole and whose apartment I’ve been abandoned in.  She looks different with her wet hair and her face scrubbed of makeup, her cheeks no longer glimmering like the surface of the moon as they did last night.

I hide out in her bedroom pretending to sleep until I hear boys talking on the other side of the wall.  “You guys,” she says.  “I have to leave.  I have to go somewhere.”  This is my cue to figure out what the hell I’m doing.  I round the corner and apologize for making her sleep on her own couch between two grown men.  “Aw, it’s alright,” she says, putting on a pair of shoes culled from the heaping pile near the front door.

My phone doesn’t work in Europe so I borrow one of the boy’s, the brother of the ginger still sleeping in Laura J-Name’s bed.  The other boy with the glasses is trying to wake her up.

“Agnes!  Agnes, get up!  Agnes, we have to go!”

Oliver is nowhere to be found and my time is running out.  I’m supposed to meet Joanna today and she lives closer to here than to Oliver’s Wood Cabin.  Oddly enough, the fact that I got stranded on this side of town is working in my favor, at least for now.  Although it means I won’t get to take a shower, change my clothes, or brush my teeth until 4:45 this afternoon, ten minute before I get right back on the tube and head to the airport for the my (month-old) flight to the Maldives.

Joanna tells me to meet her outside some train station promptly in thirty minutes.  “Ish.”  I am brilliantly insecure without full access to cell phones, telephones, WiFi, GPS.  I export half of the information that would ordinarily need to be stored in my brain to some Google web query.  I don’t remember – and hardly need to remember – the telephone numbers of people I have met after 1999.  I am like an empty vessel for an endless onslaught of useless information, absorbing everything like an already too-wet sponge.  Later, when Joanna is running just five minutes behind (part in parcel with the “ish” addendum), I stand stranded at the tube station, thinking about worst case scenarios – the one of highest concern being that I will not being able to find Oliver or the house I’ve left all of my stuff at.  Where the hell is Oliver?

“Agnes!”

“What?”

“Agnes, we’re leaving.”

My sleeping buddy appears out of nowhere.  “What?  What?  Why didn’t you wake me up twenty minutes ago?”

“We tried.”

“No, you didn’t!” she yells accusatorially, as though all of last night and all of this morning has merely been part of a giant ruse to keep her passed out in bed all day.  Agnes is still rubbing sleep out of her eyes while Laura is standing next to an open door.

“You guys, I have to go,” Laura pleads.

“I can’t find my phone.  Where is my phone?”  Ginger Agnes is tracking the apartment like a dog on the hunt.  “Who took my phone?”

“It’s on silent.  Everyone shut up!”

Everyone stands at attention, Laura looking eager and preoccupied.

Silence.

Buzz.

Buzz.

Buzz.

Silence.

Buzz.

“Shhhhh!  You guys.  SHUT UP.”

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30 Hours in London

 

Oliver is waiting for me at the end of the platform, slouched in an uncomfortable-looking metal chair, fiddling with his telephone.  He is pale and floppy-mopped as ever, a proper vampiric Hugh Grant, minus all of the prostitutes and fame and whatnot.

“I told you to get at the front of the train!” he says, reprimanding me like a brother would his sister.  “Don’t start with me,” I warn, and we wait together patiently for the next train, which arrives within two minutes.

This is a Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters

A few stops and one bus ride later, we’ve arrived at his home, a contemporary modern abode amongst more traditional British housing, stodgy and stifled by comparison.  “The Wood Cabin,” he has referred to it as in the past, leading me to mistakenly envision tartan quilts and loyal, fox-murdering hounds, not the Dwell Magazine worthy den of white walls and perfectly filtered light that it actually is.

“How much time do you need before we head out?” he asks, to which I gamely reply, “I’m ready to just go now.”  I’ve only got 30-something hours in London before I head back to the airport for Leg 2 of my journey to the Maldives.  Ordinarily, I’d prefer to crawl into some hole and succumb to my jetlag.  Despite my enthusiasm, I realize it’s 10 in the morning and I’ve just spent the last twelve hours soaking up recycled air and the dander of strangers.  I need a shower, a nap, a change of clothes.

My enthusiasm to carpe diem is stymied by Oliver’s mother-like push towards the tub.  “Take your time,” he says.  “No rush.”  I scrub myself in scalding water while staring down at the flight-induced swelling that is still ravaging my ankles.  Lazily, I opt to not wash my hair, a decision I will regret some 40 hours later, after every opportunity for genuine cleanliness has successfully evaded me.

It’s brisk in London today and I am happy to have packed warm enough clothing.  I layer on a typically New York outfit: my favorite pair of gray jeans (complete with increasingly ripped hole in crotch), a polyester blouse disturbingly similar to ones my mother would have worn to work in the early 90s, a leather jacket that still reeks of old cigarette smoke circa Paris six days ago, and my wonderfully expensive wool coat (oh, the joys of designer trade) that recently replaced the synthetic G-Star knee- length number I’ve been embarrassing my friends with for the last two years.

Oliver and I walk along the green pastures in front of his house and up a hill.  I remark on the English gardens my mother would swoon over, on how “cute” all the homes are, how “fucking British” Britain is.  Oliver holds me by the elbow at street crossings to keep me from walking into oncoming traffic, buses and the like.

We sit down to breakfast in a place that may or may not have offered crayons in the center of the table to draw with.  Our chairs are petite and elevated just enough off of the floor to make me feel like Alice in Wonderland after she’s just nibbled off of a biscuit stamped with “EAT ME.”  My body’s got that “You’re here, but your brain’s somewhere else” feeling I have become vaguely accustomed to.  I look around the room for one of those woven floor rugs they used to give to us in kindergarten for naptime.  Every cell in my body is commanding sleep.

I order an English breakfast, which, in my estimation, is a masochistic and needless nationalist tradition of runny baked beans, sausages that look more like burned fingers than pig meat, and fried eggs – the chef’s obvious goal being to correct the unnatural ratio of white to crispy brown.  I am confused as to why an entire culture would wish to present this mish mash of shit as their Breakfast of Choice.  Over the course of my four morning mealtime opportunities here, I will have been relegated to order this fare (the alternative, of course, being blood sausage and other fine delicacies) four different times.  Thankfully, this morning is one of the better ones.  I vaguely recall some roasted potatoes.

We leave.  I walk over to Barclays to pick up some “bank notes” that don’t fit into my American wallet, the edges of which are left exposed to the horror that is the inside of my purse.  By the end of the day, most of my cash will look like some child’s afterschool project, mashed into a papier-mâché-like state by rogue chapsticks, a dead cell phone, coins from various countries, and confetti parade of gum wrappers.

“Naptime,” Oliver commands, my ultimate tour guide and jetlag fairy godmother.  For some reason, I assumed he would continue to go about his day without me, but he gamely participates in sleeping for two or three hours, which, as it turns out, will fortify the both of us for the next ten hours in London.

Around 8 or so, we end up in a pub in an area I can’t remember the name of.  The walls are purple.  Yes, I’m pretty sure the walls are purple.  Oliver orders me a glass of wine, of which I have the option of getting a petite serving or one more suitable to an alcoholic’s taste.  I opt for the former, though, on my next round, liberated from acquiescing to my irritatingly omnipresent need to be in control, I opt for the latter.  Friends arrive, everyone drinks, we play ping-pong in the back of the room.  I establish that I am, indeed, a horrible ping-pong player.

A few hours later, we take a cab to Dalston.  It’s 11 p.m. and I haven’t eaten dinner.  Oliver takes me into a bodega and I scan a host of things I do not eat until I arrive at a bean salad with what is maybe feta cheese – an amazing find considering this is pretty much like Britain’s answer to a gas station convenience store.  We stand outside a bar while I stab at chickpeas with a broken fork, most of which do not make it into my mouth.

Kids pack into the pub.  Everyone drinks.  The hours wane.  A steady stream of cutesy 50s music plays nonstop.  More people jam into the club.  People drink more.  People drink until they are drunk and then they drink some more.  That night I spent in London three years ago watching British youth inhale drugs and swig booze until they’d obliterated all sense of reason – that collective, compulsory wish to destroy themselves – comes back to me.  Oh, yes, I think, now I remember how people party in London.

I yell across the table at friends of Oliver’s and then at blithely friendly drunks who have just appeared out of nowhere.  The room has become this bobbing mass of people shouting and dancing and I sit at my table feeling vaguely tired and a little bit drunk.  Thankfully, at 3 a.m. the lights come on.  Oh, good, I think.  Now we can go home.

Or, you know, not.

Oliver and I walk to a place called Kebab House or Kebab Hut or something like that to get a falafel.  We obnoxiously shout out orders to a man in a white smock, a rotating cylinder of compressed lamb meat just behind him.  Florescent lights coat everything in an unappetizing bluishness.

“Is that mayonnaise?” Oliver interrogates, largely on my behalf, as the man steadies a yellow bottle above a mostly-finished pita.  The man nods as his fingers ready for a squeeze.  “No!  No!  No!” Oliver hollers, as though the poor little man has nearly picked up the telephone to incite WWIII.  “NO MAYONNAISE!”

By the time we return to the front of the bar, Oliver’s friend – the one whose dad went to the same high school at the same time as my own dad – is standing with his hand to his nose, smearing a stream of blood into his beard with his fingertips.  “Why did you punch me in the face?” he’s asking the boy standing across from him, who can’t seem to find a reasonable answer.  Then again, I suppose there is little rationality in violence.  Punching a person does not necessarily include proper planning and carefully laid plans.

The blood begins to dry on his hands, filling in the tiny lines between the joints.  The little ginger girl who has been stumbling about and dancing and laughing and seemingly having the most wonderful time out of all of us lunges towards him with a plaid scarf, wiping blood away with its pilled surface, staining the fibers crimson.

“If you don’t want someone to punch you in the face, don’t ask for someone to punch you in the face,” the boy says, his eyes wide but not articulating anything but a needless and artificial surge of energy.  I’m pretty sure he’s been doing blow.  I’m also pretty sure Oliver’s friend did file a personal request to get knocked first in the chin, and then next in the nose.

“I didn’t ask you to punch me in the face,” he says.  This is the most verbose bar fight I’ve ever seen, devoid of the testosterone-fueled duel one might find at, say, a dive bar in Detroit.

For a moment, the respective friends get riled up on behalf of the puncher and the punchee, frustrated that parties actually involved are not taking it further themselves.  The girls step in, overly confident in their role as impenetrable shields.  They hold their hands up saying no, no, no and provide the boys with excuses for giving up.  Eventually, the groups peel away, still keeping their eyes on each other from an ever-increasing distance measurable in meters.

The useless debate to wage an all-out war continues for about thirty minutes until someone has the good sense to just head over to the liquor store to provide adequate libations for the wholly necessary afterparty about to commence around the corner at Oliver’s friend’s flat.  I guess I’m not going home any time soon.

It’s about 4 a.m. by the time we reach the flat.  I last long enough to hold a useless three-minute conversation while staring blankly at a chick magazine filled with celebrities I do not recognize or care about.  Oliver points me in the direction of a bedroom.  “Just go sleep in there,” he says.  I can’t bring myself to really get comfortable in a stranger’s bedroom just six feet away from twenty more strangers still chattering and drinking and playing music, so instead I fall asleep, fully clothed, on a loveseat pressed against the wall, my bag digging into something that looks like a remote control for a robot.

It’s freezing fucking cold and I cover my knees with a decorative pillow in the hopes it might provide me with enough warmth to cease my teeth chattering.  I’ve nodded off to sleep when Oliver comes in and takes of my shoes.  “Get in Laura’s bed,” he says, and I look over to the white mass that has since been occupied by the little ginger girl, her face hidden by a wall of strawberry hair, the comforter taking the lumpy topography of something very human and small.

I crawl under the covers, wearing my wool coat and my leather jacket, my shirt that looks like my mom, everything but my shoes.  I resist the urge to latch onto the girl I only shared four words with in the bar in an effort to warm myself.  Her drunken heat radiates underneath the covers.  I fall asleep to more laughter, more freezing cold air, someone playing a track by the Pixies.

HEY!

BEEN TRYIN’ TO MEET YOU!

MMMMMM

HEY!

MUST BE

A DEVIL

BETWEEN US

A WHORE’S IN MY HEAD

WHORES

DOOR

WHORE IN MY BED

BUT HEY!

WHERE

HAVE YOU

BEEN?

Until my body gives up, wholly confused as to what time zone I am forcing it into, straining to remember where I even came from just twenty hours ago.  Until my brain wakes up some three hours later, wholly confused as to where the hell I am, whose bed I am sleeping in, and where the fuck Oliver has disappeared to.

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Lobbying for Personal Assistants

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Four stops away from Heathrow, I decide to pull out my responsibly stapled-together itinerary for the next ten days: American Airlines flights between New York and London, my Qatar flight from London to the Maldives via Male and back, as well as a two-night hotel stay in Piccadilly Circus as proof I won’t just be sleeping on the night bus for 48 hours when I come back to London in another week.

American Airlines.  JFK to LHR.  March 15th departure.  March 25th return.  Great.

Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives.  Arriving March 18th at 2:30 pm.  Boat 5Leaving the morning of March 23rdCheck.

Le Meridian Hotel, London.  Check in March 23rd.  Check out March 25th.  Courtesy of Mom.  Happy Birthday to me…Happy Birthday to me…

I’m flipping through these sheets, casually checking and double-checking, challenging my negation of the theory that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  I’m listening to my music, jovially, high on life, tickled pink.  Cloud 9, baby!  Cloud mother fucking 9!

Qatar Airlines.  London to Male.  Thursday, February 17th.  Returning February 23rd.

Thursday, I think.  It’s not Thursday.  It’s Saturday.

Qatar Airlines.  London to Male.  Departing Thursday, February 17th.  Returning February 23rd

Thursday.

February.

FEBRUARY.

My fucking flight was booked for FEBRUARY.

I do my best to hold back the massive wave of panic and the accompanying urge to vomit, trading a more visceral reaction to crisis for heart-thumping adrenaline and limp extremities.  Still, I read my flight information again, my entire body filled with that drowning sensation that hits you when you’ve done something disastrously wrong.

February.

I can’t possibly have been so stupid.

I had just been going over the itinerary because that’s what adults did, just to make sure, just to go through the motions of responsibility to ensure yourself that everything is certainly in order, because, well, you’re a goddamn adult and adults don’t misbook their flights to the middle of the Indian Ocean but an entire MONTH.

Aren’t I supposed to be the responsible one?  I’m the person who pays my bills in full and on time, who always has a sizeable chunk of cash in my bank account for modeling’s infinite number of proverbial rainy days, who – in a permanent effort to appease my mother’s illness-related paranoia – always has health insurance.  I’m not the idiot!  I am not the idiot!

I check my phone, briefly convincing myself that it is actually February – an obvious solution to my little Qatar problem.  March, I read.  It is most definitely March.  And I, Jennifer Lee Bahn, am most definitely fucked, and am, by definition, a wonderfully capable idiot.

The fifteen minutes it takes to get to LHR are spent mentally choreographing the moment when I finally reach Terminal 4.  “I’ve done something horribly wrong,” I imagine myself saying to some uniformed man (I will find a man, I think, as he will innately want to have sex with me at some animalistic level and will therefore be kinder with the airline-mandated lashings I should likely receive for such a booking atrocity).  I am also planning for obstacles, and have orchestrated a possible scenario in which there is a massive crowd that I must push through.  “EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!” I yell, and then, breathless, make my way to the ticket counter.  I debate the importance of genuine tear shed in instances such as these.

The doors open onto Terminal 4 and I haul ass through them, running through the corridors, tearing up escalators hauling my 30-pound carry-on bag in my arms.  Heaving.  Everything about me is heaving.  Too often I find myself demonstrating extreme emotions in airports.  I suspect there is likely a TSA alert attached to my passport: Girl often looks to be in extreme duress (sobbing, red-faced, panicked, horribly and painfully depressed in spirit).  Pay close attention to.  Either way, someone’s probably got me on suicide watch or a terrorist list.

“Uh, hi, um, hi,” I force out.  The words do not come from my mouth intelligible and clearly formed, but from my throat, strangled by my wrenching horror and my tightening esophagus.  “I, uh.  My flight…is…uh…”

I pass the sheet of paper I’ve been staring at for the last twenty minutes to a woman with fogged over eyes that remind me of Labradors with cataracts.  “I booked my flight for a month ago.  My flight was in February.  It’s my best friend’s wedding.  Oh, my god.  I can’t believe what I’ve done.”

I hear the clack clack clack of her fingers on keyboard while she smiles kindly, the way one smiles at a gun-wielding lunatic who is on the verge of a massacre or who, if placated correctly, might simply give up and collapse on the floor in a fit of their own tears.  She tells me that she’s just checked in my two friends, ones that I mentioned were supposed to be on this flight with me – except, you know, on the RIGHT DAY.

“Okay,” she says, looking up from her keyboard.  “Just walk over to the ticket counter and see if you’re on the flight.”

“Over there?”  My newfound insecurity and failure to trust myself has now officially destroyed my ability to walk even four feet without being held by the hand.  I point in the direction of men in plum suits under a sign that clearly states “TICKETING COUNTER” just to confirm.

“Yes,” she says, patient as ever.  “Right over there.”

Here we go again.  A man this time.  Just as planned.  Dear Male Qatar Employee, please have mercy on me per the dictates of male-female relations.  Please treat me like a dude who wants to go on a date with me and not a female cop giving a female driver a ticket, punishing her for being an idiot, an embarrassing blight on the species. 

I hand him the piece of paper, scrunching my face up in an effort to cry.  Surprisingly, I am unable to burst into a proper fit of tears.  Something akin to dignity holds me back.

Cry, damn it!  Cry!  Don’t you know what’s at stake here?!  Paradise!  Maldives!  Your best friend’s wedding!  Idiot!

Instead, my face wrenches into a form I have not experienced in quite some time – that I’m-in-trouble-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself face that is generally accompanied by a heated flush and an awaiting of punishment.  I’m pretty sure the last time I wore a look such as this was when I got in trouble at ballet class for dancing to “Under the Sea” while holding a rhinestone in a closed fist.  My teacher pulled me aside after my incapable spinning and gravity-hampered leaping and told me it was dangerous to dance with closed fists because I could break my hand, which I of course interpreted as “You’re a horrible dancer and a tragic rule breaker.  You will never go anywhere in life.”  I was six.

“This is,” I start.  “This is just, completely…I can’t believe I did this, but my flight was for, uh, last month, and, oh my God.”

I can’t quite coordinate sentences that will appropriately describe the situation at hand.  The point likely being, that, if I do, I will have to admit to reality and personal accountability.  He stares down at the piece of paper, just as confused as I had been over half an hour ago.  And he, like me, doesn’t have much to say.  He’s used to people being 3 hours late for flights, surely, not 30 days.

“It’s my best friend’s wedding,” I plead.  “Just tell me how to get on that plane.”

He’s typing and staring concernedly at a screen I cannot see.  “That was a special rate,” he muses, my possible paradise death sentence.

“I booked it back in November,” I eek out, in hopes that the failings of a more distant past might have less of an impact on my future.  This is not generally an effective plea bargain when it comes to airlines, their motto, more often than not, being “Tough shit.”

He keeps typing and staring and I’m looking at a sea of people coming and going, all of them presumably with gloriously correct itineraries.  They walk around with calm enough faces, rolling their luggage without frantically plowing through crowds.  Showoffs.

My entire body aches from the stress.

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” I say, and then correct myself.  “This is actually the second stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”  The other date-related mishap had been an acceptance response to NYU for last year.  In my haste, I selectively read from the letter something like “congratulations” and “July 1st.”  I spent April through June in a moral quandary as to whether I should return.  When finally I came to a decision (not to go back), I called in to consult with a student advisor, who told me that my response didn’t much matter at this point, being as my decision was required back in May.  Apparently I had conveniently skipped over the part of the letter that said “Please respond to this acceptance within three weeks of the date of this letter.”

I watch him write a series of numbers down on a piece of paper, though I can’t tell if he’s adding or subtracting.  He consults another plum-suited man behind him, turning the screen his direction.  I’m sweating through my hoodie.

238.

171.

50.

35.

He’s writing all this down in pencil when he arrives at some number in British pounds and turns it towards me.

170 £.

“One seventy?” I ask, incredulous.  For the last hour I have been prepared to shell out $2,200 or merely be forced into defeat, getting back on the first a flight to New York with my tail between my legs less than 32 hours after leaving my apartment.

“Pounds,” he says, as though that had been my main concern.

I whip out my credit card before he can change his mind, revoke the good fortune he has bestowed upon me, a kindness most people will later attribute to the fact that I am girl and an argument I will not refute.

Yes, me.  An idiot girl.  The luckiest idiot girl in the whole goddamm world who is still getting on that plane to paradise.

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