Really, Really Different

Feb. 9 - Here's a story I don't think I've chronicled on these electric pages yet. It happened the very day—the very hour—I arrived in Denmark.

The DMG's father, now my father-in-law, had picked us up at the airport down in Kastrup. To accommodate our luggage he had driven his company's van rather than his own car. We were no sooner loaded up and seated in the van than he apologized for having to gas it up.

"I was counting on the gas station here at the airport," he explained, "but they're closed, so I'll have to stop at the first open station we see."

About a kilometer outside the airport, the DMG's old man pulled into a gas station and parked beside a pump. No sooner had he parked, however, than he remembered the gas cap was on the other side of the van—he wasn't used to the van and had simply forgotten.

He'd have to turn it around, but a taxi had pulled up behind us and he was afraid that as soon as he pulled forward to turn around, the taxi would advance and take our place. So I hopped out of the van and stood in front of the taxi.

"Sorry," I called out to the driver, "we're not pulling out, just turning around."

"Blargh blargh blargh," the driver yelled at me ferociously. "Blargh blargh blargh!" He was red-faced with anger. He actually began inching his taxi forward.

At the same time the DMG's father was moving the van back into position. I put my hand on the hood of the taxi and yelled back at the driver:

"Use another pump! We're just turning around!"

He snarled and growled and muttered a furious string of indecipherable Danish expletives. He began driving forward a little more aggressively—still very slow, but fast enough that I had to take mincing steps backwards to avoid being run over. The DMG had leaped out of her father's car and she too was now yelling at the taxi driver.

"Stop! Are you insane? There are other pumps! Stop!"

But he kept growling and cussing and driving forward.

Suddenly I remembered he was in a taxi—the idiot.

"Get his number!" I yelled to the DMG, trotting backwards with my hands on the hood of the taxi as its driver drove a little faster still. "Get his number and we'll call his company!"

Well, lo and behold—the taxi driver spoke some English after all! He suddenly threw the taxi into reverse, shot back about ten feet, angled away from us, and drove over the curb, onto the street, and squealed away at terrific speed.

I was shaking with anger. "Welcome to Denmark," the universe seemed to be saying, "We'll fucking kill you!"

* * *

About half an hour later we arrived at our apartment—the one we'd found online from our apartment in Queens. Furnished, the ad had said, and the DMG's mom had visited the place and confirmed the fact. It was strange to come to a new city in a new country on a new continent and have a furnished apartment waiting for us, but there it was.

As I've noted before, "furnished" doesn't begin to do it justice. This apartment had been "furnished" to within an inch of its life. Not only that, but the owner apparently never got the memo on Danish design. We were suffocated with heavy, baroque furniture and massive, gilt-framed oil paintings of Jesus on the cross and woodsy Scandinavian landscapes. The beige wall-to-wall carpeting was only visible in little patches between the two-dozen Persian carpets. There were potted plastic plants all over; plastic ivy wound its way around the bathroom. Every drawer and cabinet was overflowing with the bric-a-brac of the owner's personal life.

I was floored. "We're never gonna have room for our stuff," I observed. We had 30 moving boxes on their way to us via overseas transport.

"We'll ask them to get some of this stuff out of here," the DMG assured me.

The DMG's mom and her boyfriend came over with a welcome basket of wine, coffee, milk, butter, bread, and a few other little household staples. We sat and had a drink in our new living room and talked for an hour or two, then everyone left and the DMG and I were standing alone in our overcrowded Danish apartment. We had no phone, no Internet, no nothing. The cats were hopping around the apartment, freaking out the way cats do when you finally let them out after cramming them into travel crates for ten hours. I was inclined to freak out with them. I held back and had another whiskey instead.

We unpacked, showered, then walked over to the DMG's mother's house for dinner. My biological clock was going haywire. I realized on our walk that I couldn't read a single sign.

What had I done? Why had I moved here? How could I have been stupid enough to think I could get along for a year in a country about which I understood next to nothing?

I called my parents from the DMG's mother's house to let them know we'd arrived safely and all that.

"What an adventure you're beginning!" my mother enthused. "You're going to have so much fun!"

Which brings me, at last, to my thrilling conclusion.

The DMG and I saw Lost in Translation Saturday night. We both enjoyed it.

Bill Murray plays an American movie star who's in Tokyo to do a couple of ad shoots for a Japanese whiskey.

At one point in the movie he's talking to his wife, who's back in the states with the kids.

"At least you're having fun," she says, misunderstanding everything he's just told her about his experience.

"It's not fun," he replies. "It's just really, really different."

I love Denmark, I'm having great fun here, and so on and so forth et cetera. But sometimes—as on that first, awful day—it isn't any fun at all. Sometimes it's just really, really different.

Fear and Trembling and the Little Red-Haired Girl

I have an amateur's interest in philosophy and I've always liked The Peanuts. I can't help feeling, however, that Nathan Radke is going a little too far: "It is only by falsely denying his freedom that Charlie Brown can overcome his despair."

I acknowledge the genius and wisdom of The Peanuts, but when I'm looking for a life philosophy on the funny pages I'll go to Calvin & Hobbes every time.

(It's called "Steen og Stoffer" here in Denmark, and reprints in the free dailies have been instrumental in teaching me Danish.)

Charlie Brown is unbearably passive. Calvin is maniacally active. Where Charlie Brown gets hamstrung in reflection, Calvin springs unapologetically into motion. Charlie Brown dwells in contemplation and dread; Calvin rides the roller-coaster of exuberance and regret, throws his arms in the air, and shouts, "Wheeee!"

I suppose it's natural that Charlie Brown would have a certain appeal to persons cloistered in ivory towers, but for those of us who live outside the rarefied air of those palaces, who go bounding over hill and dale in a perpetual cycle of excitement and disappointment, Calvin is the more appropriate everyman. Calvin with his temper, his greed, his confusion, his enthusiasm, his skepticism, his credulity, his unswerving conviction that he occupies the very center of the universe—that's human.

Charlie Brown may represent a kind of existential despair, but then Schroeder has to be said to represent the egocentrism of the artistic temperament and Lucy would have to represent the authoritarian impulses of the despotic personality and so on. The most fully human character in the strip isn't even human: he's a beagle. And he's always been one of my heroes. Hell, my high school yearbook quote came straight from Snoopy:

"I used to try to understand people. Now I just relax and let them try to understand me."

No existential crisis there. So yes, I suppose you can look at Charlie Brown for a study in existential despair. But why bother, when you can find such existential joy in his furry little friend?

I guess we all find what we're looking for.

And with that thought in mind, I'm going out into Copenhagen today looking for some fun...

* * *

Today is the birthday of Mia Farrow (1945), Joe Pesci (1943), Carole King (1942), Roger Mudd (1928), Gypsy Rose Lee (1914), and Carmen Miranda (1909), and William Henry Harrison (1773).

Happy Monday!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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