Sunday, November 29, 2009

Love in the Time of Swine Flu - Part 8

There’s no better remedy for a broken heart than buying a gaudy pink Bolivia baseball hat that lands you in the arms of a pretty Kiwi girl.
The hat was purchased for a hard-bargained 24 Bolivianos in Copacabana before jumping on the bus to La Paz. A Canadian wayfarer-wearing hipster, Cam, chatted my ear off the whole ride while the Brits snoozed with headphones in their ears. He rambled on about his bartending exploits and how a vegetarian diet with loads of pineapple makes his semen sweeter.
The stretch of road between Copacabana and La Paz is relatively uneventful, and then, before you know it, a massive crater in the Earth opens up, within which sits a densely populated city of hilly streets, colorful buildings, and heavy pollution. From a high vantage point, looking out over La Paz at night, it sparkles like an international space station.
We checked into Loki Hostel, the same chain from Cusco. It wasn’t long before the booze came out and guns blazed. Though tired and in a daze, my pink hat worked magic. I’m sure those rum and cokes didn’t hurt much, and thus I landed in front of Felicity. I had seen a copy of her passport laying out at the check-in desk and snagged a peak. Her photo was flattering. My passport photo looks as if a bullet is exiting out of my head, pulling up an awkward tuft of hair in its wake.
So there I was, standing before the girl from the picture. I learned she possessed both Kiwi and British citizenship.
“You know,” I said, “If we got married, our kids could have access to all the great Western democracies.”
“So should we get married?” she asked.
“Of course.”
“Where’s my ring then?”
I fashioned her a ring out of paper. The Brits looked on in dismay, cringing - convinced I’d surely blown it. Other people in the bar looked at me like an asshole. If someone else was wearing a pink hat, I’d think they were an asshole.
Felicity did not think me an asshole.

The next morning my right arm throbbed in unnatural ways around the injection spots from last week when I nearly died of food poisoning. I wondered whether something was severely wrong. That’s what hypochondriacs do. What if the pain was a symptom of blood clotting or impending heart attack?
Like a feeble vampire, I wandered the streets of La Paz with Rich in search of a novelty gift for Edd. We got him a wooden recorder.
Edd was turning 24. When you’re English, it’s the law that on your birthday you must drink the equivalent of one alcoholic drink for every year of your life. And then more. It was a miracle he was still comprehensible by the afternoon. Along with the bulk of Loki’s other residents, the English boys and I boarded a tourist bus headed for a Cholito wrestling match. We expected masked midgets wrestling women, but the actual event was little more than super-amateur WWF with pot-bellied middle-aged Bolivian men. A few females made appearances. Most won their matches; one took a disturbing beating over the head with a plastic chair. There was a sole appearance by a little person. She ended up tied to the ring ropes by her hair, squirming like a fish on dry land.
The event dragged on far too long. The real entertainment was Edd. He had a shot glass securely fastened to his right hand with a whole roll of tape. We couldn’t have him losing the shot glass in a drunken stupor. And so we wouldn’t lose him a crowd, he donned a pair of heart-decorated boxer shorts over his pants. There was also the green wooden recorder, so we could hear him wherever he went. He was a celebrity.
On the ride back to the hostel, he sat shotgun next to the bus driver and honked the horn in celebration. He conducted sing-a-longs amongst the passengers and had himself a jolly good time.
It was time to join Edd in his drunken state. I half-heartedly partook, looking on confusedly as Felicity chatted up other dudes. We presented Edd with a kaleidoscopic cake. I snuck off to email my family, inform them I was still alive, and upon return, gave it another go with Felicity. Conversation eased with each drink. Physical self-destruction is but a small price to pay when pitted against social comfort. There was a game of Uno. I was back in.
The hostel party transferred to a club spinning American Top 40, and even though it wasn’t Felicity’s cup of tea, we danced our pants off. We threw shapes so intense they left nuclear shadows on the walls. And when the smoke cleared, we grabbed a taxi home with Edd, Rich, and two pricks who attend U-M for grad school. At the club, the bigger prick of the two kept telling me, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take the Kiwi chick home already before someone else does. I know what I’m talking about.” He claimed to know what he was talking about with every subject. This rubbed Rich and Edd the wrong way when it came to the subject of cramming six people into the taxi. They exchanged words and argued over who was more entitled to be traveling through Bolivia.
Dozing in my bed, Rich and Noel tiffed in a gentlemanly manner. I’ve never heard people criticize one another so politely…or maybe that’s the definition of passive-aggressive. Eventually everyone slipped off to sleep, and life was good.