I’m walking around Dusseldorf with a plastic cup of wine.
It’s 9am on a Thursday.
German class is about to begin but I’m not going today.
Last time the teacher punked me out in front of the whole class.
It’s like 4th grade all over again.
But not this morning.
No, today I’ve got other plans.
Today, I’m going to fart around town like a wino.
You’d think there’d be more winos in Germany.
But there aren’t.
I’m convinced that the police go around, rounding up winos and distributing them to towns and villages around the country on an “as needed” basis.
Imagine a large wooden shipping crate with a label on it.
Wino in training
I walk to the river.
The river is there, cold and grey and partially blocked by a construction crew erecting a fence along the promenade.
That’s an old-fangled word, promenade.
Somewhere grey-haired townspeople are dosey-doing in macramé vests.
Why are these men fencing off the river?
Whose idea was this?
The Master Plan somehow seems off.
I feel like they should be building a fence around McDonald’s®.
What would the manager do?
How would he cope?
“Just keep mashing burgers through the holes!” he might shout.
Imagine a fence sweating out Big Macs.
The sun is warm on my back.
I walk toward the Heinrich-Heine train stop.
There’s a ledge by a gazebo where I enjoy people watching.
Sometimes people watch me.
Sometimes they want more.
I’ve been asked for eine Zigarette 43 times since moving to Germany.
No one seems to believe I don’t smoke.
No one thinks, Boy did I misjudge that guy.
It’s more like, This guy’s a lying piece of shit.
They’re more put off than let down.
There’s a promotion going on in the square near my people-watching ledge.
The Fila shoe corporation has hauled in a red two-story trailer.
A nice-looking guy approaches me holding a sneaker.
It’s mesh, the color of tennis balls.
He shows me how it has five individual toe holes.
I take a sip of wine.
“One for each toe,” he says.
I instantly regret speaking to this guy.
No. Learn to give people a chance.
He asks if I want to try on a pair.
“No pressure,” he says.
He senses he’s losing me.
“I’ll throw in a pair of five-toed socks.”
I repeat the word “socks” like it’s too good to be true.
The sudden urge to grab him by the collar swells within me.
I follow him into the trailer and take off my boots.
I set my wine cup on a display case beside a purple five-toed shoe.
My feet are very narrow.
The shoes splay my toes apart.
It feels like there are styrofoam cups between them.
“They look great!” says a pretty athletic-looking girl in a Fila shirt.
Something about her rubs me the wrong way.
Under no circumstances are these sneakers “great.”
Her comment sticks with me like a red flag someone has lit with a match
and stuffed into my back pocket.
So this pretty, maybe-crazy girl leads me outside where I mount an elliptical machine.
A lot of people of all ages are walking by.
It’s a beautiful morning.
I grip the handles and shuffle my ridiculous-looking feet back and forth in an elliptically-shaped path.
It all seems very ridiculous.
I begin to pump my hands and feet very hard.
The machine starts to emit a grim whirring sound.
People turn and stare in passing.
They’re witnessing the world speed record for elliptical.
Indubitably, some will believe these ridiculous shoes helped me do it.
They’ll never know the hard work it took to get here.
My athletic career is a career of poorly negotiated endorsements.
Never again will I accept socks as payment.
That ends today.
The nice-looking guy walks over to me.
“So, where you from?” “What do you do?” Pretty dull stuff.
He’s trying to distract me so I’ll cool it on the machine.
This isn’t your ordinary elliptical machine, you understand.
This thing spins about ten times as hard as gym models.
I imagine my foot slipping off beneath the pedals and tearing my leg off and dislocating my hip and crushing my toes one by one.
He’s turning over the tennis ball-colored shoe in his hands.
I want to tell the nice-looking guy that he could be doing more with his life.
Of course I don’t.
That sort of thing could screw a person up, lead them astray.
Could he handle being a pretend wino?
Imagine this nice-looking guy walking up to strangers with one shoe on, and one shoe off.
A shoe isn’t something normal people lose.
But if a stranger approaches you with only one shoe on, run.
No good will come of it.
Seven minutes later, I’m still pumping away on the elliptical machine.
I feel like there is an invisible fence around me.
I want to yell, “You can join me, but you can’t judge me!” to the people walking by.
But it’s not necessary.
My invisible fence keeps their judgements at bay.