I awoke in Venice in just the same state that I had fallen asleep: nearly naked and sweaty. Kay and I left our hostel that morning in search of a nearby cafe to have breakfast and coffee.
We found a quaint cafe with outdoor seating in the shade. While we ate and drank we discussed the meanest things we’ve ever said or thought. Admittedly, this conversation seemed rather cruel and dark to be had by two adorable people drinking adorable cappuccinos first thing in the morning. But still we discussed the wickedest collection of words our minds had ever conceived, and we were all smiles. From there we examined what makes an insult an insult. For example, we pondered: is a swear word really an insult? Is saying something as impersonal as “dick” or “slut” really insulting? Directed at a person without a specific context, those words are only words—a deliberate collection of syllables and sounds cleverlessly spat without the specificity that true verbal abuse should require. We thought of phrases that might be more pointed and biting—sentences like, “you’re overrated—,” (followed by specificity and reason, of course), or “you’re not clever enough to successful,” or “it’s clear you hate yourself, and you should.” We concluded that intentionally rude commentary on physical attributes—“you’re bald,” “you’re fat,” et cetera—should not be even considered insulting, as the affront’s premise is usually regarding something that can not be helped or at least immediately corrected, and so the “insult” ought to be considered as shallow and empty as the person delivering it.
But insults can have redeeming qualities, Kay and I agreed, like in a comedic roast. I love watching comedians roast each other, though I can barely tolerate deliberate meanness in real life. The comic friends I grew up with in Missouri, like most groups of comic friends anywhere else, ripped on each other close to constantly. Ball-busting callused our skin and made our hearts grow for each other—I thought that my friendship with Kay didn’t feel quite there yet. Sometimes our interactions still felt somewhat formal. We were close, sure, but we weren’t ball-busting close. And in that moment, as I was sipping the last of my coffee, the bit of it that is basically just foam, while surrounded by a beautiful foreign city, I missed my hometown friends and my sleepy little hometown very much. I hadn’t yet made too many close friends in Chicago, but I missed my home there, too. While Kay and I spoke, I silently calculated when would be the soonest I could get back on stage to do a lousy four-minute-long open mic set. Maybe this trip was a few days too long, I thought.
We finished breakfasting and ventured out to see as much of Venice as we could. We peeked into markets, snooped around cathedrals, and explored narrow alleyway after narrow alleyway with an adventuresome deliberateness. Every city in Italy we’d visited yet had had small fountains, which spouted drinking water to be filled into bottles by weary pedestrians, or to be gulped at with their dry mouths if they’d lost their containers (as I often did). These fountains were usually built into the ground or a wall, and were common enough in other towns that despite whatever thirst the summer caused, one could likely fill his or her bottle back up with glorious life-giving water easily and conveniently. Venice threw us a curveball, as it defied our fountain-having expectations, leaving us thirsty and desperate. I had purchased a water bottle the night before, and though it had the potential to hold 1.5 liters of volume, it was currently empty, and had been for some time. The sun was exactly above us and shade no longer existed for the time being, and so as we kept searching for water we became as hot as we were lost, and we were tremendously lost. The irony!—we were walking just above a limitless amount of water, people were traveling through the water mere yards away from us, and yet none of it was available to drink.
At this point a reasonable person, one without a prideful sun-fried brain, would probably just decide to buy a new bottle of water. But I was convinced I had purchased too many bottles of water on this trip already, and so we decided to start making our way back to our hostel to hydrate and rest. We weren’t entirely sure how to get back, but we knew vaguely the direction to head towards, so we hoped and expected our trek wouldn’t take too much time—but even if it did, we knew we could entertain ourselves by sweating until we withered and died.
We identified the cafe we had breakfasted at, and knew we were close. And then a couple dozen yards away from that very cafe was a fountain spurting cool, clean water. I still have no clue how we managed to ignore that fountain the first time. But we filled up our bottles, chugged the water, filled them up again, and went to our hostel to pass out.
Napping did little to quell our exhaustion, and so Kay and I decided to spend this evening relaxing with beer and a movie. We looked into purchasing some unique beers from a market within walking distance of our hostel, but after realizing that we had no way of keeping the beers cold in our muggy room, we decided to buy wine. This journey through Italy was the first time I’d ever enjoyed wine, but I still preferred a good, dark beer to wine, so before settling in to our room to watch a movie, I insisted that we have a drink at Il Santo Bevitore.
I had told Kay about meeting Elisa the night before and was excited to introduce them. We walked past the sign that said “NO DRINKING ON BRIDGE” and walked into the pub. Elisa was cleaning something behind the bar and I saw her face light up as our eyes met, and then her face unlit when she saw Kay entering beside me. During the previous night’s conversations, I had always referred to Kay simply as “my friend,” and so when Elisa gave me her phone number, she probably didn’t expect that “my friend” was, in fact, a rather attractive woman sharing a room with me.
It appeared to me that Elisa presumed that Kay and I were some sort of couple, and I then presumed that the discovery of this presumed romance disappointed her, because she presumably liked me, and I realize this makes me sound very presumptuous. Elisa then assumed a manner of shyness, and behaved like speaking to Kay or I would be like interrupting a date, which was certainly not the case; I assumed full responsibility for not relaying the information about Kay adequately, and made an effort to facilitate a friendly conversation between the three of us so that Elisa felt comfortable and amiable. (I made a concerted effort to go from being presumptuous to assumptuous, but unfortunately “assumptuous” is not a word, and therefore not really a state of being, either, like I had presumed.)
I ordered The Negra black IPA and one of the strong Trappist ales for Kay and I to share, which must’ve made things seem worse to Elisa. Kay realized the implication her presence created as well, and tried to be especially friendly to our bartender. Elisa did speak with us, but seemed distant—conversing with her today was not at all like the night before. Kay and I finished our beers and I gave Elisa a hug as I left.
“She seemed disappointed,” Kay said on the walk home.
Back in our hostel room I opened our bottles of wine with my pocket knife and we attempted to illegally download episodes of the television show Louie using the hostel’s internet. For whatever reason, our attempts failed and we instead elected to watch episodes of Archer, which Kay already had on her computer’s hard drive. We sat side by side on our twin beds and drank room temperature wine for three episodes in a row. It was nice to relax, but considering how many things in Venice we didn’t even know we were missing out on, and considering how many fun things in Venice we knew we weren’t experiencing (for example, more beers at Il Santo Bevitore!), the break from exploration felt a little underwhelming. Kay announced that she was going to go ahead to sleep; it was a quarter after eleven o’ clock. Kay closed her eyes with the room lights still on and laid on her bed.
I debated the idea of going back to Il Santo Bevitore for a considerable amount of time, and finally around midnight I decided to go. I grabbed the keys from Kay and told her I was going for a walk.
“Is everything OK?” she asked sleepily.
“Yeah, I’m just not ready to sleep and I don’t want to keep you up,” I said. “I’ll be back soon.”
On my way towards the pub, I gave a closer inspection of the different gates in and around my hostel, in order to discover which gate in particular would lock me out at 12:30. I found that the locking gate was the one which led to the hostel lobby and the majority of the rooms, but was not the gate at the main entrance, which led to my room. I could stay out as late as I wanted and not be locked out.
I crossed a small bridge and I encountered two women sitting on the stairs. They tried to ask me directions to a hostel in broken Italian and then in fluent English, and I told them I had never heard of that place, nor did I know where it was.
“Oh, you’re American?” one of them said.
They each gave me their names, which I had forgotten before I had a chance to write them down. One was a tall, curvaceous black woman, probably around thirty years old, originally from New York City; the other was scrawny and white, looked to be barely twenty, and hailed from Canada. They explained to me that they had only met each other within the last couple hours. Apparently they asked each other for directions, discovered they were both lost and looking for the same hostel, then they bonded over their concordant lostness and decided to drink wine in the streets. A reasonable enough solution, I supposed. I told them I was on my way to the nearby pub and wished them good luck.
I walked into Il Santo Bevitore to see Elisa’s face brighten again. Though her voice was small, I managed to hear her say to a man at the bar, “That’s the one from Chicago.” A middle-aged white man with thinning brown hair swiveled around on his stool and said that he, too, was from Chicago.
“Where in Chicago do you live?” he asked.
“Near the Lakeview area,” I said.
“Oh, well you’re not kicking anyone’s ass tonight!” he laughed and slapped me hard on the shoulder. I didn’t entirely get the joke, but he certainly wasn’t wrong.
The Chicagoan only stayed at the bar until he finished the beer he’d been working on. Elisa said she was going outside to take a smoke break and invited me to join her. Elisa insisted she wasn’t a habitual smoker: “I only smoke one cigarette a day,” she said, “just to take a break.” She needed the break and was very tired, she said, because she couldn’t sleep the night before because it was too hot in her apartment. She just laid awake sweating. She asked about my day, and I told her about my search for hydration. I asked about her day in return, and she said she went on a boat ride. “Venice is a whole new city when you go by boat.”
Once Elisa finished her day’s cigarette we moved inside and I ordered a Kwak, which is a Belgian beer. It was served in a tall, thin hourglass-shaped glass, which comes with a wooden stand to help keep the glass held upright. The pub soon became full of patrons and Elisa was preoccupied with them for some time. I felt a little awkward sitting at the bar alone, with no one to talk to, so I grabbed my strange glass of strange beer and went outside to chat with the two women I’d met earlier. They remained near their original locations by the bridge, and their wine bottles were emptier than before.
The three of us became more acquainted, but when I told them about my preceding travels, the two women were unshakably hung up on the fact that Kay and I were only friends.
“You guys are sharing a room? And you aren’t together?” the Canadian exclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s no big deal—” I began to say.
“Does she want to be romantic with you?” the New Yorker asked.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I bet she does,” the New Yorker said, squinting her eyes and nodding her head, “just spoon her the next time you share a bed. I bet she’ll snuggle into it.”
“Yeah, I’ve done that!” affirmed the Canadian.
“Um, no, that’s OK. I think I’ll be OK.” I said.
“Or just be upfront with her,” said the woman from New York, and took a sip of wine, “Women like that.”
They didn’t accept my answers, and I felt uncomfortable. No means no, lady!
My Kwak was finished, and the two women followed me back to the pub. The three of us were disappointed to see Elisa and her boss cleaning the bar and closing down for the evening. No more tasty beers for me. My two new lost and drunken friends received directions to their hostel from Elisa’s boss, hugged me goodbye, and stumbled away. I had to let Elisa finish cleaning so I quickly said it was good to have met her, and hugged her goodbye. The back of her shirt was damp, and with a sigh and a shrug she wordlessly apologized for being sweaty. I wordlessly told her it was fine.