The Ugly American

Who is not me (This time (As far as I can tell (Yet))).

And he wasn’t quite ugly, by objective standards… as you probably surmise, I’m talking about behavior, not appearance (though behavior quickly modifies appearance).

I was angry yesterday, but I suppose sleep and the fact that I’m in an internet cafe rather than the normal friendly bar atmosphere has tempered me somewhat (to a harder edge).

And before that moment, this TUA’s arrival, I’d been having a great experience talking to the bartenders and two Polish guys, one of whom was drinking away his sadness at having failed his MA (equivalent to US, though it’s their normal college track) exam. They and I ended up talking for about an hour about various things, poetry, writing, hitchhiking in Poland (“autocar”), and the educational system. They were cool and nice and, even though they said their English was not good, it was/is obviously much better than my Polish.

Names learned: Piotr, Marek, Asia (short for Joanna) (don’t ask me how).

[LANGUAGE LESSON: I’m learning, very slowly, how to figure out Polish. Today, for the first time, I had an inkling of how the imperfective and perfective forms are used. For example, there are two ways to say goodbye that are normally used: Do widzenia and Do zobaczenia. The verbs forming the phrases are the same; widziec and zobaczyc both mean “To see.” However, zobaczyc is the perfective form, which makes it the more friendly version of “See you later.” The imperfective version (Do widzenia) means, essentially, “I may see you again.” The perfective version (Do zobaczenia) means, essentially, “I WILL see you again.” As Piotr explained last night, it’s the more hopeful version of goodbye. Hopefully this flash of insight is a good sign.]

And, about this time, TUA and his radio partner, a woman whose name I never learned, arrived. TUA was sad/depressed/whiny because this was his last day in Krakow and so

he asked Piotr and I if he could have our seats, since this was his last night and his favorite bar and he always sits in those seats. Strike 1.

Piotr responded that he had just failed his exam, implying he had just as much a right to be sad in this seat. I gave him my seat, feeling generous, even though I already knew, had a hint, that I did not like this guy. I stood

and Piotr and I continued our conversation standing. We ended up, I don’t remember how, mentioning his hometown (Slizien?) and how

TUA interrupted, turning around on his barstool, saying that he’d been there, to that town, and boy there was this one bar he’d been to where this waitress, she had the most beautiful legs, the most beautiful legs, and he was there with this guy, an artist, twenty-one years old, did I mention this girl had the most beautiful legs? and this guy’d been going to this place for a year only ever saying to the waitress, “Can I have a beer?” but in Polish, you know, and I say to him, hey, just talk to her, I mean, these two kids, obviously liking each other, and this bar

“What is the name of the bar,” Piotr asks.

It doesn’t matter, that’s not the point

“See, I live there.”

So I convince this guy to talk to the girl and can you believe it, a YEAR of not talking to her, of her not saying anything to him, and this, it was like magic, you know how if you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and if you don’t, well, it sucks to be you, I mean I’m not saying all Americans are like this, but we are, we’re special, and there was this bar in Odessa where all the ex-pats go, all the tourists, and it took me three days of going there to break the ice, but then, on the night before I was to leave, the people at the bar made to let me know to come back the last night, and I did, and drank all night for free, because I’m magic, it’s magic

Eventually he trails off, because Piotr and I are just staring at him. He apparently was looking for us to be impressed. He turns back around, we finish talking, Piotr and Marek leave, and for some reason I stay. The woman asks to look at my book and I give it to her, so she’s flipping through it until I leave.

TUA is depressed. He’s going to Albania where there are (apparently) no parties or pretty girls. Did I mention that I’m a radio dj, that I work with a lot of the most popular bands in Eastern Europe, that I know a guy who can translate your book into Polish if you’re interested, here’s his number, he throws the best parties, I think I’ll call you Andy the American, and I’m going around trying to find the answer to a question, this guy’s paying me to find out information, I can’t tell you what about, non-disclosure agreement don’tcha know, but yes, I’m important, have I mentioned that I’m important, not in so many words, but

God, am I tired of trying to recapture his voice.

I thought that Ashley might find him amusing, at least to push, to interrogate, to see what he’ll spin (not lies, per se, I mean, what do I know, but would you hire a guy for a “secret project” if he went around telling every stranger he meets about it? Maybe that’s the question he’s trying to answer) but he just made me annoyed and angry, because he was mostly interested in hearing his own thoughts repeated back to him.

And here’s the thing that I parted on (I was already leaving) and that I wanted to put first simply to show that I may be biased (but I don’t think I am) in my judgment:

As I prepare to leave he says,

Your poem, The Cure at Krakow, loses meaning at line three. I.e. It no longer makes sense after that line.

Before I continue, here’s the poem:

The Cure at Krakow

That march of blues like water at the turning over
of the tide, words slipped out like blood
from a refreshed wound. The spider that decorates forever
the pages of the book, its lifeline hanging like a ribbon
from the closed history. Who smells the horseshit
when flowers garnish every doorway? Stones
dress in pigeon feathers. The cats
have ended their centuries-long hunt
and are absent now, having taken all desires
into themselves. Around the corner,
the people echo their laughter from windows.
Cracked open, they still appear closed, the light
from televisions sealing their lives like a veil.
Across the square a statue bends her head.
The tall towers of the churches roll in the wind
as darkness comes, and stars
seem to bring themselves closer
to the man crying over his last meal,
the stench finally unavoidable.

Besides the audacity to criticize a poem in a published book, when no criticism was asked for (I think he may have felt the need to criticize since he wasn’t able to answer the woman’s question about what a word in an earlier poem meant=”aerating” from The Cleansing Power of Metaphor), his response shows a narrowness of view, the idea that if you don’t understand something then it must be broken, rather than the chance that you may not understand something because it’s outside of your experience.

Granted, all of you reading this may agree with TUA (and still not be ugly), but then it continues…

It loses meaning after the third line.

I understand, but as you might expect, I disagree.

Well, I do have professional experience as an editor.

I have professional experience as a writer.

I’ve done professional writing, too. You can’t read it, though. You don’t have the security clearance.

Exit stage left, pursued by a bear.

I don’t think I can really convey how much distaste I have for this guy, and how it annoys me that when he said,

If I come back through and see you again, we’ll have to go out and I’ll show you how Ukrainians drink.

I said, I’d like that.

Which I rationalize by telling myself he’d make an interesting night, but, no, he wouldn’t, he’s poison in the air, he’s a boil, a blister that’s always threatening to, but never breaks.


Last night I also had trouble getting to sleep, but while doing so my mind came up with fragments to two of the poems I was thinking about, and now will go work on. Yay!

Also, poem definitely accepted by Agni Online. Double yay!

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