It was a late night in Prague, September of 2014. My friend, Erin, and I were trying to dodge the late night rain and avoid the drunk tourists in the old town. After hours of searching for a little bar that didn’t exist anymore, we ended up finding this basement bar that was really hipstery and full of people who looked 16, drinking what can only be classified as “mixology drinks.” Erin got herself a nice concoction of gin and I’m guessing some flower or berry mix or some shit and I got a Pilsner Urquell. We decided this was our last stop on the Prague tour before heading to Dresden early the next day, so we were going to have a few, especially because we were way out of our element at this bar.
Somewhere midway through my second beer, and countless judgy stares from the Slavic kids cliquing at the bar behind us, this Finnish guy approached us. He started talking to Erin and I like he was an old friend. “Excuse me, but I hear you speaking English. I also speak English.” We responded in kind, “Yes, we’re American” to be polite. Both of us were kind of hoping he would go away so we could talk about our plans for the next day. “Well I’m here on business and…”
He told us this long story, most of which I can’t remember because we were exhausted from the day and not really interested in having company over drinks. We weren’t rude or anything, we just wanted some time to rest our feet and our brains after a long day of walking around the old cobblestoned streets. I had a pair of leather Clarks that I thought would be a sure fire shoe for Europe… not so much. Prague was about the time that my blisters were starting to heal… Still I just wanted to numb the pain of my bloody heals with a couple of cold ones.
I could see by the look on Erin’s face that she was as thrilled about our new friend as I was. Then he asked what Erin and I did for work. She gave her name and a rundown: “I just graduated from college and am backpacking through Europe. I’m hoping to find a job as an architect when I get back to the states.” The focus turned to me… Oh jeez. Here we go. So I gathered up my bio and laid it all out on the table over our maps and beer… wait.
“I’m Leroy.” I told him. “I’m from Kentucky.” I glanced at Erin. Her face was still, but she was glaring at me. I watched her lip quiver a little. “Ah what do you do, Leroy?” he asked earnestly. “I’m a designer…” Too easy. Let’s gloss on another layer: “Have you ever heard of the Kentucky Derby?” I saw the light bulb go on in our friend’s eyes, “The horse race?” I slammed my beer down and pointed my finger at him, “That’s the one!…Well, I design the decorative blankets that go on the horses as they parade them out to the starting line.” Honestly I don’t even think they put blankets on the horses… but I didn’t expect him to know either.
The grin started to grow on Erin’s face. She was keeping quiet and gritting her teeth and tightening her lips. Her eyes were fixated on me as I sloppily told him about doing an apprenticeship where I got flown to stables all over the country to meet with the owners and got to “really know my models in person.” I was on a roll. I was waiting for Erin to crack. “Wow that sounds like important work! Do you like it?” he asks me. “Yeah. It’s a living. Plus I get to travel a lot in the off-season…. Honestly the work isn’t that hard. I basically just sit at a desk cutting out construction paper designs and making a rough model and working pattern until stitching season arrives! That’s my most difficult work period!!” I lowered my face and raised an eyebrow at him. I looked over at Erin who had now buried her face in her gin, most likely to hide her laughter. “Yeah it’s amazing what you can do with those scissors that go like this.” I started snaking my hand in front of me towards the sky.
Erin jumped up, threw her arms out, and looked down at the floor as if she had just seen a huge spider at her feet and gasped, “I have to go to the bathroom!” I knew she was losing her mind inside trying not to laugh. I was also trying to hold in my laughter.
I didn’t care who this person thought I was. I honestly was not trying to be mean, but it was kind of fun. He had no idea who I was or where I was from either. For all he knew I was some art student, living in Prague, studying Alfonse Mucha. We were never going to see him again. The possibilities were endless. He probably didn’t have enough grasp on what life in Kentucky was like, and for all he knew I grew up in a log cabin, stitching my own clothes, getting buckets of rain water from up in the Appalachian foothills and learning to cook all my food in lard. Honestly I got excited about all of the possibilities. I could pretty much be anyone my imagination could dream up.
When Erin came back from the bathroom she had pulled herself together and was ready to play along. Our Finnish friend seemed a bit skeptical of my work and was trying to change the subject to the topic of other good bars in Prague. However, Erin wanted to test me. So she kept turning the conversation back on me, “Have you seen Leroy’s work? It was in Cosmopolitan!” I started throwing her daggers with my eyes, “Yeah just a small piece in the art section.”
Luckily I made into the clear, and the rest of the conversation was a bore… As I said, we were not interested in some unwarranted friendship that night. Sad but true. I remember a lot of long awkward silences where we just didn’t bring up new topics, hoping he would take the hint that we were done talking. Eventually we said goodnight and Erin and I left the bar, walking through the streets of Prague, cracking up about Leroy the famous horse blanket designer.
A couple of weeks later… our friend Joe had joined us for the final leg of our Europe trip. Thanks to him setting a “weekday alarm” we had missed our Saturday morning flight from Dublin to Munich for Oktoberfest. We made an afternoon flight the same day and got into the city early enough in the evening to make it to the Hofbrauhaus just after 9 or so. However, we were still a little burnt about having to pay an extra 71 euros to get a second flight and were slightly taking it out on Joe. We squeezed into the end of a big long wooden table and all ordered the hofbrau original in a liter mug, along with a couple of pretzels.
Half way through our first beer, this drunk German girl in a hoodie leans over the back of our table, right into our faces, and says that she can hear us speaking English and wants to know where we are from. She was blackout… or pretty close to it. She kept licking her lips to moisten them and blinking really slowly. We told her we were American and that we had just arrived to Munich. She looked at Joe, then at Erin, and then at me. I was wearing the full lederhosen with my wool fedora that I bought at Oktoberfest in 2012. She closed one eye for a disturbingly long time and pointed at me slowly, “You look really German.” I looked down at my suede ensemble then up at her and flashed a look that said, “nah…really bitch?”
“What are your names?” She glanced at Joe. “I’m Joe.” Then at me, “I’m Hans.” Then at Erin, “I’m Jessica.” Joe squinted and grinned at the two of us… forgetting about us telling him the story of Prague. Drunk girl tried to tell us about Munich and how she is from Bavaria. She eventually scooted her butt over the top of the bench, just past Joe’s head and sat down at our table with us…. Once again, we were not interested. I kept referring to how Joe and I had been to Oktoberfest a few years back and how this was Jessie’s first time… Joe hated us. When we left, we were sitting on the U-bahn and he turns to both of us and pouts, “I wanted a fake name too.” Erin says, “Don’t worry, Joe. We’ll get you one.”
BTW, we drank a LOT at Oktoberfest!