Somewhere in northern Spain, November 7, 2012 –- In our last thrill-packed episode of “Waiting for Sasha,” we had just emerged from 350-euro prostate treatment and were about to embark on our every-90-day trek to Morocco to renew our Spanish tourist visa. Leaving on the 11th of October and returning on the 16th would just give me time to get settled in again before Sasha’s arrival on the 21st.
Since Vanya’s plane ticket was for the evening of the 11th, I arranged my jaunt to Casablanca so we would ride the bus together to the bus station in Madrid, where he would catch the metro to the airport and I would catch the bus to Casablanca.
A few seats away on the bus was an adorably cute little tyke – well, 20-something, but who’s counting? -- who we overheard speaking German and Spanish and English. At the rest stop somewhere down the line Vanya managed a few words of conversation with him. Yes, he was German and was attending the university in the nearby mini-city of Vigo.
It’s all the conversation Vanya had time for, but he and I decided the lad was gay, but unattainable, so we simply filed him in our memories.
As we neared Madrid, I remembered that I had told Sasha I was going to be there so that, hope against hope, he might meet me and we would be spend at least a few moments together.
I also remembered that I had forgotten to tell Javier, the male nurse I met while waiting for the bus to Moldova last summer, that Andrei and I were coming so he might meet us there. I had told Vanya about Javier and Vanya had even texted him on one of his trips through Madrid, but they had never met. When I told Vanya, he grew very excited and sent Javier a text message on my mobile phone; and – surprise! – he said he would meet us at the bus station.
Heavy rush hour traffic made us a little late in arriving, but when we did, Javier was there waiting for us. As I remembered, he’s young – 28 – reasonably good looking, doesn’t have a girl friend, and is a male nurse, which almost certainly means he’s gay.
We – mostly Vanya and Javier -- chatted for a couple of hours, during which time Javi told some stupid Spanish jokes which I didn’t understand even after he and Vanya explained them to me. I decided he wasn’t as sweet and thoughtful as I had supposed.
He and Vanya left on the metro about 8:30 p.m. Sasha never showed, which didn’t surprise me because even if he’d seen the message, I figured he was probably working. I waited in the bus station till about 9:15 p.m. and then trudged down the escalator to try to find my bus. There was only one thronged by Arab Moslems. “Bingo!” I had found it.
We pulled out about 10:30 p.m. Unlike the last trip, there were no cute muslim lads who spoke English, so I was pretty much on my own. I had just settled in for the 10-hour journey to the Spanish port city of Algecirus when I texted Vanya that I was on the bus enroute to Morocco.
I immediately received his disconcerting reply:
Dane, I’m in terrible trouble. Someone has stolen my wallet in the metro. And I think it was Javier. I have lost a lot of money and my Spanish residential permit.
I immediately wrote back: “Oh my god! Where are you now?”
He never replied.
As before, we arrived in Algecirus, Spain, city of debarkation for Tangiers, Morocco, at about 8 a.m. As before, I stood in line waiting for my passport to be stamped for the entire ferry boat journey. I decided to park the heavy bag full of goodies on a seat in the lounge. “Nobody would steal a bag full of groceries,” I reasoned.
Wrong! When I went to retrieve them after I got my passport stamped, they had evaporated! No great loss, except that I had filled a mason jar full of anise to help me sleep in Casablanca. But even that cost less than five euros, so no big deal. It did teach me not to let anything of value out of my sight on the ferry trek.
After a many-hour bus ride from Tangier, we finally arrived in Casablanca at about 8 p.m. Spanish time, which was two hours ahead of Moroccan time.
I had learned a little bit from the last trip, so I walked a few steps away from the station and caught a cab for 50 derhams, 5 euros -- half of what I paid last time. We arrived at the hotel, where the same handsome lad was presiding over the registration desk. This time I remembered to write down his name, which turned out to be Amine.
I set out to find the snail vender who had held forth in front of the ubiquitous McDonald’s when I was there last time. Alas Apparently he had been hit by the depression too, because he was nowhere to be found that evening or my next two in Casablanca.
Since I was pretty exhausted from the trip, I went to bed relatively early. But when I woke up in the middle of the night, I had no strength in my right hand. Oh-mi-god! Had I had another stroke? My Russian doctor’s words came back to me very plainly: “Strokes are caused by high blood pressure. If you don’t have high blood pressure, you won’t have strokes.”
My blood pressure, which I measure every day, has remained tenaciously in the 120/70 range – utterly normal. So I couldn’t have had a stroke -- could I?
But I couldn’t grasp anything with my right hand: I couldn’t grasp the blanket, I couldn’t grasp the roll of toilet paper or wipe my ass! What the fuck is going on?
I remembered when Jim and I lived in Baltimore, I had a bet with Erik Goldberg, a devoted Pittsburgh Pirates fan who rented the spare bedroom. Of course Jim and I were both die-hard Baltimore Orioles boosters. When the Pirates and the Orioles turned out to be World Series competitors that year, I bet Erik that the Orioles would win the series. Loser had to pay for a night at the bar!
The first six games were a three-three tie, and the seventh and final game was played in Baltimore. It was a heart-breaker. The Birds lost, and being a man of my word I took Erik to a friendly neighborhood bar and we got thoroughly shit-faced.
When I woke up the next morning, my left arm was completely paralyzed. It was numb as a stump and I had no control over it whatsoever. I went to the queer doctor in Wash., D.C., later in the morning, who said that in my drunken state, I had probably slept on it too long, shutting off the circulation for several hours. I would probably regain feeling and use of the arm as the day wore on.
He was right. I very soon regained complete use of my arm.
But this time my arm wasn’t numb! I could feel full sensation in it; I just had no use of it. And booze had played no part because someone had stolen my anise on the boat!
Although I could barely write, I laboriously made a list of things I couldn’t do without the use of my right hand. Topping the list: I couldn’t jerk Sasha off This was serious!
I also couldn’t sign for credit card purchases! I couldn’t shave! I couldn’t wipe my ass! I couldn’t haul my luggage in the airport! When I went for breakfast that morning, I couldn’t hold a fruit glass. I couldn’t unlock my hotel door. When I went shopping later in the morning, I couldn’t grasp my grocery cart, and it fell to the floor.
The rest of my list was illegible. Without a functioning right hand, my major loss was that I couldn’t write!
Whatever the problem was, I was in no position to do anything about it. But despite the fact that it apparently wasn’t from cutting off the circulation in a drunken stupor as was the case in Baltimore, complete use gradually returned. By the time I arrived home four days later, I had pretty much full use of it, although I still have problems writing legibly. But what’s new? I haven’t able to write legibly since I took a course in speed writing 50 years ago!
The next day, Saturday, I did some handicapped shopping and set out to find the Rialto Hotel and my friend and fantasy from the last trip, Abdel. It turned out to be his day off, I was told.
On Sunday I made my way back. Abdel was there, but the moment was gone. He was cordial, but the vibes were missing. “Maybe this afternoon?” he suggested.
“Yes, maybe.” But I never went back.
The rest of the trip was equally unexciting. I caught my bus back to Tangiers on Monday, and had a largely uneventful, rather boring, trip back to Madrid.
When the departures board in the Madrid bus station said my bus was in place on Tuesday morning, I rode the escalator down. Imagine my happy surprise to see the adorably cute little tyke that Vanya and I had ogled all the way to Madrid! We recognized each other. I introduce myself to him and found out his name was Patrick. The happy surprises just kept coming! It turns out his seat was next to mine!
He’s a German student from Hanover attending the university in Mainz. He is attending Vigo University to perfect his Spanish. We chatted the whole time in English, and I corrected a couple of his English errors.
He said he has a girlfriend who is a student in Mainz. But he is HIV positive. He said he had picked it up in a transfusion in Africa, which I didn’t believe. I don’t have any doubt that he picked it up in Africa, but my guess he got it getting fucked in the ass by some good-looking African john.
In any case, he brought it back and gave it to his girlfriend. They’re both well controlled on shots he takes twice a year. I’m still convinced he’s gay and have written him a couple of e-mails since I got back, explaining that in America we start out letters with “dear” and end them with “love.” He’s catching on.
I invited him to spend some weekend with me, during which we would share my 3-4-size bed; but he never responded. Oh well. I guess even though he’s queer, he’s not into old farts like me
When I finally got home about 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, I went immediately to let my neighbors Conchi, Jose, Javier, and his grandmother Carmen know that I was back.
It turns out Jose had driven to the bus station that morning at 4 a.m. and again at 6:30, and they were nearly frantic thinking something terrible had happened to me. I had lost Conchi’s phone number and it never occurred to me that Jose would be worried. I felt really bad that they had been so concerned, but I hadn’t gotten any hints that that would be the case. I now have Conchi’s and Jose’s mobile phone numbers so we can stay in touch. They’re truly thoughtful and kind people whom I want to keep as friends.
When I finally got to my apartment and checked my e-mail, I was devastated: It had happened again:
My darling Dane, how are you?
I am very ill. I have bronchitis. I need to go to the hospital. Here in Spain it will be very expensive. For that reason I have to go to Russia. There treatment for me is free. I have already bought a ticket to Moscow. I need to get there as fast as possible to begin treatment. I have a very serious form of bronchitis.
But later I will return to Spain and go to you.
I can’t write more, honey. Write me and tell me how you are.
Forgive me that this has happened. I kiss you and love you.
Again, what could I do but wring my hands and cry?
“My darling Sasha,” I wrote immediately.
What terrible, sad news. I just returned from Morocco and it was in my mailbox. I don’t what I can do My health is also not so good. Last month I had problems with my prostate. I went to the hospital, and it cost 350 euros!!!! I was able to pay, but barely. If it happens again, I’m afraid I will have to return to America for treatment
We will see how your treatment goes, but I’m afraid I won’t again have money to help you with We’ll see, my darling.
Write as soon as you can and tell me how you’re feeling, etc. I am very, very worried.
I desperately hope that we can continue our plans to live together.
I love you more than ever,
On Sunday, October 21, the day Sasha had been due, I wanted him to know I was thinking of him:
My darling Sasha,
It’s already the 21st of October, when you were supposed to arrive. How sad I am that you are ill, and not here. I hope that you are feeling better, although probably you haven’t been in the hospital very long.
My darling, you have bronchitis. You must, must, MUST give up smoking. Smoking will kill you, if in fact it hasn’t already. And as you discovered in Spain, cigarettes here are very expensive. There are a lot of laws against smoking. In fact, it is against the law to smoke in my apartment. You have to go onto the street!!!!
My darling, I love you more than anything or anyone else. I want you to live with me, but smoking will kill you. If you don’t quit, you will soon be dead!!!!!!!
My darling, get well quickly and come to me. I am worried sick about you.
I love you with all my heart, and I cry for you.
I wrote again on the 23rd:
My darling Sasha,
I hope that you are now in the hospital and getting better. How I love you and miss you!
The weather is good here in Spain.
Write me as soon as you are able. In the meantime, take care of yourself. I am very worried.
All my love,
And again on Nov. 4:
My beloved Sasha,
I wonder how you are. I hope that you are better. Probably you are still in the hospital, but I hope that you are getting better slowly but surely.
I’m fine, and my health is good. I think, when you are much better, I can help you buy a bus ticket to my city.
I heard that there is already a lot of snow in Moscow. Here it’s still rather warm – the coldest is 4 degrees C (about 40 F). Today it was 9 (50 F) to 17 (66 F).
Write me when you can. I love you very much and miss you dreadfully. Hurry and get better. I eagerly await you, my darling.
I kiss you many times.
With love always,
My sense of grief and disappointment were profoundly deep. I had been Charley Browned again: The football had been pulled away from the end of my punting toe, and I lay flat on my ass – again! I tried to put on a “smiley face” for those around me, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very successful. I told Elvira about it in our meeting for coffee on Thursday, and she helped me translate the “alcoholic’s prayer” into Spanish.
When my ex Jim, then a drinking alcoholic, joined AA in Seattle back in 1990, I tried to be supportive of him by attending the AA meetings. But such mea culpas mingled with phony pride of the ghastly things they had done as a practicing drunk I’d never heard and never want to hear again! The only thing of any value I got out of if was the “alcoholic’s prayer”:
“Give me the courage to change the things that can be changed; the patience to accept the things that can’t; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It was quite evident that I could not affect Sasha’s bronchitis or his return to Moscow to treat it. All I could do was hope: Hope that he would get well enough to return; hope that my prostate problems wouldn’t return and force me to go back to the States, and that I would have the money to help him if he needs it.
So in the Shakespearean “old age stage of man,” I wait again -- sans Sasha, sans health (maybe), sans everything but hope.
Stop the presses! I just received an e-mail from Sasha :-), and he’s alive and well – though still in the hospital:
I am much better. I will soon leave the hospital. I had a serious case of bronchitis. I don’t know why. I haven’t smoke for a long time!
How are you?
I kiss you,
Of course I immediately responded:
My darling Sasha,
Thank god you are alive and getting better. Do you plan to come to Spain soon? I hope so. I am still very hungry (horny) :-) and am just waiting until I can eat your sausage :-)
I am very, very glad that you have quit smoking. Thank god.
Here in northern Spain, it is still fall. The temperature today is 4 to 17 degrees Celcius (40 to 66 F). I need you at night so I won’t get cold :-)
My darling, write me when you get out of the hospital, and we will plan your trip to northern Spain. You need to come straight to me so I can take care of you :-)
Again, how glad I am to hear from you. I love you, I love you, I love you and miss you very much.
So maybe my book, Life Begin at 80, will get written after all :-)
Although I returned from Morocco on Tuesday, it was Thursday before I felt like writing Vanya:
Mi querido Vanya,
I’ve been home for four days, but psychologically haven’t been up to writing. Waiting for me in my e-mail inbox was the following message from Sasha:
I sent him a copy of the letter I had received.
“Of course I was devastated,” I confided, and sent him a copy of my response to Sasha. I continued:
He must be horribly ill. He had to travel back to Moscow. As sick as he must have been, I’m afraid for his life. I’m completely devastated and have cried a couple of times. If he survives, he simply MUST stop smoking – it will kill him if it hasn’t already. Even if he survives, I’m afraid I won’t have the money to send him to help him come to me.
I had coffee with Elvira Thursday, and of course I told her the situation. She translated for me the “alcoholic’s prayer,” which I think is remarkably appropriate under the circumstances. Of course there is absolutely nothing I can do except worry and hope.
In the meantime, if my prostate flares up again – and I’m fairly certain it won’t – I will probably have to return to the States for treatment. It is much improved, and I was able to renew the prescription this morning with no problem. It cost less than 5 euros for a month’s supply of pills. I’m now able to pee and shit with no problem.
Now to your horrible theft: Again there seems nothing I can do or say except I’m so terribly sorry. However, I doubt seriously if Javier is the culprit. Nurses are even more altruistic and caring than teachers, and I can’t imagine any teacher that I know stealing a friend’s wallet – even less a nurse. The subways of Madrid – and any other city for that matter – are notorious for the professional pickpockets that infest them.
The only thing I can do is give advice “after the horse has escaped from the barn.” Ever since I first went to Russia I’ve kept my passport and important cards – bank cards, identification cards, etc – in a small pouch that hangs around my neck. And I never have more that $ 100 in my pocket --- the rest I keep in a bank which is immediately available by bank card. I don’t even have a wallet. These are some things you might think about for the future.
Now to brighter things: Conchi and I are trading English-Spanish lesson, and I have added artichoke hearts to my Chinese noodle soup. They change it from a ho-hum businessman’s lunch into a gourmet delight.
BTW, I had a mango in Morocco and I agree with your mother. I’m absolutely enchanted by them.
Well, Querido, I think that’s all for now. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?
Your big sis
Oh, one other thing. Probably because of the Sasha situation, I think I was coming down with the flu last night. I woke up with a horrible sore throat. I put an aspirin where it was hurting and let it stay and dissolve. Today it’s not even sore :-)
I realized I hadn’t told him about my visit with Patrick:
I forgot to tell you the most important thing about my journey: In the bus station on the way back, guess who I saw: The cute boy who was on the bus to Madrid I greeted him and boarded the bus, and guess what! When he boarded the bus, his seat was right beside mine We chatted in English from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
A couple of times he pointedly mentioned his "girlfriend" in Mainz, Germany, where he went to the university, but I think he's gay or at least "bi-". He's attending Vigo University where he's perfecting his Spanish. I have his e-mail address, and plan to write him. He's 24 years old. His name is Patrick Georg Henke.
Wanted to bring you UTD.
But it was Friday, November 2, before I finally heard from Vanya. I was imagining all kind of frightful responses on his part, and had even written an e-mail in Russian asking “why do you keep silent?”
Hello, my dear, I still feel quite affected by what happened to me in Madrid Underground, that terrible theft.
Anyway, I'm working very hard and this is my main distraction. I work every day except Thursday.
Thank you so much for your support and good advice as to how to take care of my money when travelling.
How are you, any news from Sasha?
Do you know anything about Elvira and Pili?
Your little sis
Thank god he was still in command of his senses. “Hello, my dear sister,” I wrote.
I am so relieved to hear from you. I was becoming quite concerned about the state of your mental health after the shocking theft in the Moscow underground.
I will give you the advice that you gave me after Sasha was admitted to the hospital once before: “Don’t fall to pieces.” After all, it’s only money and I learned -- after Andrei Tioufline stole my apartment, which cost me probably a quarter of million dollars, including the value of the apartment and the money I spent on rent over the next 11 years – that life goes on and we sometimes have to deal with seemingly unbearable losses. They turn out to be bearable, and some things are more important than money: love, good friends, family, and enough money to live on. So, after all, mi querido, it’s only money :-)
I haven’t heard anything from Sasha. I’m quite worried, but once again the alcoholic’s prayer kicks in: There’s nothing I can do and I have to accept that. I miss him so terribly.
Elvira and I continue to meet once a week for coffee, conversation, and exchanging gossip :-) I told her yesterday that I hadn’t heard anything from you. She’ll be glad to know that you are still alive and well. I didn’t tell her about the theft in Madrid. It’s so depressing, and I only like to talk about happy things. You can tell her about it when you come in January.
Despite my 350 euro hospital expense and my trip to Morocco, I’m in pretty good financial shape. I think I will be able at last to put away a few hundred bucksi a month. I hope so.
This is one of those absurd, senseless Spanish religious holidays – “All Saints Day” or “Day of the Dead.” It’s a national holiday today and tomorrow and the weekend. But it’s not my country, and as Elvira says,“it’s tradition,” so I’ll simply enjoy the free time :-)
I still haven’t heard anything from Pili. Very perplexing :-(
You said you work every day except Thursday. What do you do on Thursday? My teenage Spanish correspondent, Carlos, has quit writing. Sigh! Strike another fantasy off my list.
How are you bearing up under the onslaught of manipulative pressure from Elena? It must be pretty grim. As we say in America, “grin and bear it.”
Okay, my dear, I’ve rattled on long enough. It’s so good to hear from you. Cuidadete! (Take care of yourself)
Your big sister
I also had another e-mail from Igor, the “Joe @#%^&* in my life. He’s back in Moldova with an infected leg full of pus. “Couldn’t you help with money for treatment? Please, Dane? $ 100; if you send it, I will heal and find good work, in order not to lose it…I hope you can help me, Dane.”
As I’ve pointed out to him before, I’ve sent him nearly $ 5,000 over the last two years and he’s absolutely no better off. Between Sasha’s potential needs and my own possible need to escape back to the U.S. for health reasons, I resolved not to play patsy again. Instead, I wrote:
My dear Igor,
I’m very, very sorry to hear about your problems with your leg :-( But because I had to pay the hospital $ 450 for treatment for my prostate and more than $ 300 for my trip to Morocco, I don’t have any money :-(
But I will tell you something that will help: When I was a little boy, antibiotics had not been discovered. And when we had infections, we put onion poultices on the wound, and the onion sucked out all the pus from the infection. When my mother was a little girl, she even cured the infection in a horse’s leg with onions. You need to cut an onion into slices and tie it on the wound with rags like your mother uses for beans and tomatoes. When the onion turns green, you need to throw it away and put a new one on. It takes several days, but it’s effective. But also put some disinfectant on the wound.
You need to start as quickly as possible. I hope that it works. Your mother will help you.
Good luck. I love you, but unfortunately I have no money :-(
But Wednesday I received another e-mail from him:
Hello, my dear Dane! No, Dane, I need an operation again, my leg is already swollen and folk cures won’t help It’s already 2 months I have suffered; I am afraid that I will develop gangrene of the bone. Dave, if you can, send 80 by Thursday? For treatment? When I recover, I will go again to work in Moscow! If you can, Dave, help me? I love you, miss you, await an answer. I kiss you, ‘bye
Oh, Jesus, what have I done to deserve this? But I can’t let them saw off his leg, and $ 80 is manageable, so I replied:
My dear Igor,
Yes, I think that I can send you $ 80 on Thursday. I’m very, very sorry that your leg is so bad :-( I worry a lot. Good luck!
I’ve written a couple of times about the world die-off of bees that’s threatening their ability to fertilize our plant foods and poses a real threat of mass starvation if something isn’t done to prevent it. The last time, I wrote that mobile phones were suspected of being the major culprit.
Now, we’re told that it’s the pesticide “clothianidin,” that “is used by global pharma giants like Bayer” and hundreds of others. Clothianidin “doesn't just kill off the insects that threaten our crops. It stays in the air for months, leaching into ground water and spreading throughout colonies to destroy whole hives with its deadly toxins,” contends a group that is trying to do something about it.
“Right now, the EPA is debating whether to keep Clothianidin a legal pesticide--and if enough of us speak out, we can save our environment from destruction,” they contend.
So for whatever good it will do, contact your congressman and senators and your friendly local EPA rep and tell them to get clothianidin out of our food chain. The threat of die-off from global warming is serious enough. We don’t need a world full of dead bees to exacerbate it.
The election’s over! Obama won, thank god, but so did big money, though not as decidedly as if a President Romney presided over the White House and the country for the next four years. Now the riots, militarized police response, and revolution have been stalled a little longer -- maybe. But how much longer remains to be seen.
Obama has done a lot of things wrong: drone aircraft killing innocent civilians in foreign countries; indefinite detention of U.S. citizens suspected of “terrorist” activities; a blind eye to the power of the moneyed 1%, and attempts to shut down Occupy Wall Street.
But Romney would have been horrifically worse: war with Iran, total loss of power by the 99%; and a huge crown for leering Big Money.
One big reason I would have voted for Obama if I had been in the States: This president will probably name two or three new members to the Supreme Court. We simply can’t afford any more decisions like Citizens United, the recent Supreme Court decision to let mega corporations spend mega bucks buying ads – and politicians -- at election time. And a Romney presidency certainly would have given us that – and much worse.