We’ve all done things that draw other people’s criticism and even scorn.
Standing up for what you believe is often difficult, especially if your friends and family refuse to support your decision. Posterity will decide which people were right and brave and which people were complacent and fearful.
The story I’m about to tell you went down in a little place called Wien, Österreich, where the beer flows like wine and the women flock like salmon to the shores of Capistrano. But before you interrupt to tell me that you don’t speak Spanish, content yourself with this English translation: Vienna, Austria.
I spent three months studying art, world literature, German, and a beautiful young woman who served the students breakfast in Hotel Theresianum. We nicknamed the “Frühstück Fraulein.” The day we were to leave and loading luggage on the bus, I walked up to her and said, “Du bist sehr schön.”
She smiled and said, “Thank you.”
She spoke English? Of course she did. I could have bestowed sweet romance on her that whole time. We could have watched cheetahs wrestle rabbit carcasses off the zipline at the Tierpark and tear them into pieces. We could have drunk Kinderpunsch and held hands at the Christkindlmarkt. Crappers.
Everyone in Vienna spoke English. The waitress at the crepes place and the waiter at the Greek restaurant would listen for a moment as we stumbled over the um-lauts, long vowel sounds, and strange clusters of consonants—“Ich möchte einen Salat und die—no—den—no—das Crepe mit…—before gently interrupting. “Would you prefer that I speak in English?” Ms. Fancy Pants would say.
“Ja, bitte.” I had to get one last German phrase in to prove that we Americans at least try. We’re good for more than obesity and other insatiable appetites. For example, my own state of Tennessee gave the world whisky, rock ‘n roll, and country music. Or at least, Jack Daniels, Elvis, and Music City.
A stereoptypical conversation went something like this:
Wiener: “Hallo, wie geht’s? Was ist deiner Name?
Me: “Ich heisse Austin. Ich komme aus der USA.”
Wiener: “Cool. Which state are you from?”
Me: [thinking, Of course you speak English. You probably speak five other languages too.] “Tennessee.”
Wiener: “Oh, home of Elvis, Jack Daniels, and country music.”
Me: “Yes, you’re right.” [thinking, My education is worthless.]
Wiener: “So, do you like the Diskothek?”
Me: “Umm…maybe. Probably. Do they serve hot wings there?”
Wieners may be polyglots and have their superior mass transit system, world-class art museums, centuries-old coffee culture, architecture and landscapes steeped in history and tradition, and pastries filled with marzipan and Nutella, but they cannot resist our holidays disfigured by commercialism to the point of grotesqueness or our bad action movies. Ha.
Two of our chaperone-professors brought their daughter with them to Vienna. When orange and black tissue paper streamers began appearing in store windows, the Reeds asked all the students if we would help make Halloween special for their daughter Keegan by letting her come trick-or-treat at our hotel doors.
If trick-or-treat is what the little girl wanted, then trick-or-trick is what she’d get. I’ve always known a good opportunity when I saw one, but before you jump to conclusions about my character, let me give you some background on this little nine-year-old cupcake.
She slapped one of the students in the group and then enjoyed the spotlight when she stood up in front of the entire group to apologize. She bossed us around like some blond-headed female Napoleon. She would walk up to me, put her cool, moist hands on each side of my face, and lay her head on my chest. I guess it would have been kinda sweet if her hands were warm and dry and if she didn’t always tell us to be quiet and brag about all the time she’d spent traveling outside the U.S.
You get the picture: very intelligent, precocious child with no siblings and no children her own age who wanted to impress the cool college kids by trying to act their age. Maybe you had a little brother or a next door neighbor who fit this description. Recipe for disaster.
Nobody else was doing anything about this problem, but real men don’t wait to be asked. They just make something happen.
When my best friend Hunter and I went to Zielpunkt, a small grocery store near Südtirolerplatz, to buy whatever is was we’d be dropping into Keegan’s pillow case, we didn’t make our way to the candy aisle. Oh no. This sting operation required more than candy. Attila the Hun-eybun had to be stopped. No more of this crinkly skin around my eyes as I fake smiled my way out of another awkward hug. No more conversations ended abruptly when she came up to the dinner table and made herself out home. She wasn’t our mascot or our pet. She was our arch nemesis, which necessitated trickery, trickery not treatery.
In the refridgerated section amongst the sheep’s milk cheeses and cold cuts, we found the golden ticket—18” gorgeous inches of vacuum-packed mackerel with a dark green back and silver-striped sides.
That night, we heard a knock on our door. The time had come.
Hunter and I glanced at each other then walked over to the door. I held the package behind my back while Hunter opened the door.
Keegan was dressed in a black unitard. Her mom, whose class I loved and offspring, well—, had drawn whiskers on her face with mascara. She had on slippers and a head band with triangular cat ears. She hadn’t quite grown into her baby fat yet, so I tried not to make eye contact with the black mashed potatoes around her midriff.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Trick-or-treat!” she sang, her face lit up with expectancy.
“Trick,” I said and shoved the fish package into the pillow case she held open.
We slammed the door in her face, and when we heard another knock at the door, we refused to budge but basked in our glory.
You might say I’m cruel. Or that I hate children. Or that as a young adult I should have been mature and exercised more patience with a mere child who was probably lonely and just wanted to hang out with the big kids. That’s garbage. I’m a hero.