This week, my Challenge goes out to Lazidaisical, while I am challenged by the immortal Plaid Pants, who gives me "ruins at dusk", while neither confirming nor denying the color (or colors) of her pants. I call this "Young Americans"
"You have to travel," everyone told me. "You should go see the world. It will inspire you." I put them off, until my bank balance, fat from a couple of pieces that sold for more than I thought they would, convinced me I could. I paid my bills ahead, packed up, and left for a month, sketchbook in hand, ready to see the Old World.
It was unsurprising. It was old, and very beautiful. People were generally nice, understanding and accepting my ignorance and managing to explain to me, with pantomime and phrases from Matt Damon movies, where the public bathroom was. It was odd seeing signs with unfamiliar logos and words you couldn't understand. As an ignorant American, I got used to reading every flat surface around me, from the warning on a bus window to a vending machine, with subconscious speed.
I had one week left before returning to home and hearth. It had been a fine trip, and I had made sketches, and I had some new ideas. But I had a lingering wish that it be over- that I was back among people I knew, television shows I could understand, Chinese food I could order at 3AM. Rules and customs that I knew, friends that would answer when I called them. Culture was all well and good, but I was about ready to go home.
Our tour bus was making its way up a long, winding hill. The bus driver appeared to be a David Bowie fan, as he kept playing the same Greatest Hits cassette over and over as we kicked up dust behind us. We were at a set of ruins up here, broken walls and columns and old statues. The tour leader, a round bellied Irishman named Phillip, announced, as the daylight faded, we could push on to one more site, or just call it a day. I was all for the latter, along with a sullen teenage girl, but the rest of the group, the girl's earnest mother, several robust seniors and a single man, all voted to press on, so we did.
We finally pulled off to the side. I could see some stone outbuildings and another long wall. It looked more or less the same as the last stone wall we saw, but I held my tongue. There was a vending machine inside the bus enclosure, and I stopped to get another bottle of water. I put in the coins, but the machine wouldn't drop the bottle. Looking around anxiously for some sort of attendant, I saw only the single man. I hadn't spoken to him yet, but as I usually did, I had quickly sized him up as the only fit potential suitor on the bus.
I wasn't the most active person I knew. Not by a long shot. But I had my share of boyfriends, and people who would open their bed to me if I asked. I didn't dare on the trip- you never know what the laws are, never mind the rules and customs and niceties of coupling outside your own land. But in my typical fashion, I eliminated the others and settled on him. Whenever I was in any group, I would analyze it for potential mates, just inside my own head. If it was going to be any of them, it would be him.
I remembered a line I heard a comedian use about the actor Alec Baldwin: the closest thing to James Bond that you're going to meet on this Earth. That's what the single man was- calm, cool, and collected. Trim, with well fit, fashionable clothes and a shock of dark hair, he had noticed my distress with the machine. After nearly a month with no attention from anyone, my body perked up when he caught my eye.
He came up beside me.
"How many did you put in?" he asked. His voice was smooth, like a radio DJ or a lounge singer's would be.
"It needs four," he said, sliding one more of the strange foreign coins into the slot. I heard the mechanism release, and the bottle thumped down to the bottom. "I made the same mistake this morning."
"Aha," I said, removing the bottle from the machine. "Thanks."
"I'm Jacob," he said, extending his hand.
"Keith," I said, shaking it. Yup, I thought. I definitely feel something.
"Shall we go look at more rocks?"
"I guess we shall," I said. We walked side by side towards the group, who were gathered near one end of the wall. Phillip was talking about Roman legions as we made our way to the edge of the group. He didn't take my hand or anything so forward, but he seemed to deliberately stand near me. I looked at him in profile, his eyes focused on our group leader. I felt my heart pound a bit. Maybe this trip wasn't so bad after all.