19. Race to the bottom

I stared at the ceiling, craving for fresh air and water. Motionless I listened to the turmoil of the street. All the noise had a therapeutic effect on my pounding hangover. Damn, pull yourself together. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it. With hesitation, I rolled out of it. A dozen feet away, my mate was still knocked out cold. I looked at him and laughed about the previous night. We were kicked out of a nightclub after sneaking into the VIP zone. We seized the opportunity once the bouncers got distracted. Once inside, it wasn’t a question of if our cover would fall, but when. I wore totally trashed jeans and sneakers of which the soles almost dropped off. Our uncivilized behavior and outstanding outfits made us stand out. We were a breathing insult amongst the so-called VIP crowd. While they were trying so hard for a victory, we behaved like a bunch of fools. Irritation increased visibly among the overdressed youngsters. Great. Eventually the curtain fell and we were expelled from the club. Fine. We’ll wander the streets, among the leftovers of the rank and file. Still young and already hopeless, how low can you get.

In a smashed state, we strolled past a busy market. Suddenly I got the fantastic idea of exchanging our Swiss Francs. “Just exchange them, they are useless in Italy and Corsica. Losing some money is inevitable.” We quickly found a currency exchange since Florence is loaded with them. Alex reluctantly grabbed his hard-earned cash. Without asking for an estimation, he put his precious papers on the counter. A man in suit eagerly got his hands on them. He seemed to make a detailed calculation behind the Plexiglas. Our conversation about Switzerland was rudely cut. “Okay, I’ll give you eighty euros.” Excuse me? Nearly forty euros was missing from this top deal. Alex neatly asked his money back, which agitated the guy. “The transaction can’t be undone. Take it or leave it.” Alex insisted, but the qualified professional was steadfast. Me and Alex looked at each other in bewilderment. This act is undoubtedly covered in the small print. We realized that we had no leg to stand on, so he ‘accepted’ the competitive offer. Alex took his loss and thanked him for the outstanding service. Then Alex stormed off, past the billboards’ no additional costs’, ‘competitive rates’ and ‘best deals in town.’ I followed him with my money in my wallet (Later in Rome, a shabby-looking money-changer exchanged my France for a fair rate).

He was pissed off. From his point of view, it was partly my fault. That’s how it felt too. We had a mutual moment of idiocy. Being experienced travelers made this slip even more embarrassing. So naive. We should’ve known better by now. After all, we had grown up in a world where weakness often gets exploited, a time in which nothing is as it seems. Sigh. It’s no use crying over spilled milk, so we moved on. We followed the masses of tourists towards a popular hill, just outside the city centre. There we grabbed our packs of cheap wine out of my rucksack – the much-needed cutback – and sat down. Having something for nearly nothing made the cheapskates within us feel good. We enjoyed the sunny vista of this open-air museum. “Don’t be such a penny-pincher. Think of that man’s poor family, his colleagues and their families. Find true peace by understanding and forgiving.” His poke in my rib-cage almost choked me in laughter. This was the stepping stone towards merciless satire about the boundless greed and corruption. Starvation wages and exorbitant prices, monopolies and bureaucracies, inequality and concentration of power, exploitation and tax evasion, mafia practices and deception, scams and tricksters, propaganda and broken trust: nothing remained unmentioned. Enough is never enough, more always leads to more. It’s like a pandemic for which there’s no group immunity or cure. We got infected over and over again: in jam-packed homes, underpaid jobs, physical sale-points and digital marketplaces. Poorly programmed machines, seasoned crooks, elusive landlords/bosses or sleazy chaps are just some sources of infection. Take caution, they are everywhere. C’est la vie. We toasted cheerfully on a global shit-show that gives us so much inspiration.

Being drunk and in high spirits, we roamed around through this marvelous world heritage site. Everything indicated that history was about to repeat itself. This was going to be another one of ‘those days’. It was the most realistic choice in our opinion. Only this course of action provided a fitting sequel for this downright comical journey. Budgets were blown, shenanigans were committed, lows were experienced and refrigerators were depleted. We left a trail of broken beer-bottles, awkward imprints, pissed bushes and maniacal laughter throughout Europe. All this madness was driven by a wry slogan: ‘why not, we’re on holiday’. It perfectly described two caricatures who were continually reinforcing each other’s traits. For us, this wasn’t a standard (two- or three-week) holiday. We had no job to take leave from. We didn’t even have our own home; we lived everywhere and nowhere. Not out of incompetence or force majeure, but out of personal choice. What many call a sabbatical was the norm for us. As purebred bums, we got beyond the point of ‘normal’ travelling. We simply couldn’t stop due to our everlasting hunger for absurdities, creativity, purpose, change, odd characters and unpredictability. During this bustling phase of life, we ‘had’ to build the foundation for a fruitful future: building careers, enforcing commitments, saving for (vanishing) pensions, acquiring real-estate, finding a lifelong breeding partner and pump out some kids. Instead, we were possessed by an abnormal lifestyle, an seemingly irrational lunacy. Yes, we too were engaged in a race to the bottom. We were sinking increasingly deeper and faster towards the bottom of society, existence and the human soul. “Who knows, we might end up in a clinic, jail or madhouse at this rate.” After a high five, we toasted again. Mamma Mia! What a promising prospect. What the hell am I doing with my life? Just get out of my life…

Unconventional misfits rarely steal the show and that’s fine, we simply have our own party.

> Click here for an overview if you’re eager for more stories <

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