Chapter 53 – A Taste of Insanity
Lately, it seems as if every story I put together should be preceded by the line “Hi, my name is Tim and I’m an alcoholic” and be read from a podium to a group of fellow boozehounds at an AA meeting. As mentally tiresome as it may be to relive my embarrassing rap sheet of intoxicated boners over and over while trying to put them in words, I feel that getting them on paper provides me with a sense of therapeutic relief – my way of making sense of and coming to terms with events where my thoughts and actions had been hijacked by substances. So, during today’s counseling session, I’d like to talk a little bit about a whopper of a blackout I endured during time spent in the capital of Azerbaijan.
In total, I had three nights to spend in Baku before flying across the Caspian to Turkmenistan. The first, I arrived late. The second, I had all day to explore and on the evening of the third, I was due to fly out – not long enough a period of time to get to know a country, but definitely long enough to see some shit and do some shit around the city.
On the first day, after having taken a private taxi from Tbilisi to the Georgian border, I shared a “marshrutka” with a hodgepodge of random Azerbaijani folk from there to Baku where I struggled to find my hostel in the old part of town for a good two hours. Once I’d found my digs and got settled in, I was straight-up exhausted and passed the fuck out.
The next morning at the hostel, I had no plans beyond taking a shower and eating breakfast. While dicking around, refolding and rearranging the contents of my bag in the dorm room, I met a German girl named Lisa with whom I made plans to go explore the city. Together, we spent about five or six hours seeing all the sights, people-watching along the shore of the Caspian and even found time to help out an old lady who we saw struggling to carry a bundle of groceries up to her house on a hill. The elderly woman spoke no English but decided to invite us into her home anyway and talk at us in Russian for a solid fifteen minutes with many mentions of “spasiba,” or “thanks.”
Eventually, we went back to the hostel sometime in the late afternoon for a bit of relaxation. There, I utilized this down time to shoot my mom an email letting her know I was still alive. Aside from laundry, this is probably the only real chore that exists while traveling. As I handled my obligatory duty by virtue of the hostel’s WiFi network, I encountered a Swiss German guy, a French kid and a Japanese dude who’d all been sharing the dorm with us. Following a brief chat, Lisa, the three amigos and I all decided to go out for dinner and some drinks.
As I’d learn, the French kid was an artist and a squatter – only 22 – who spent the majority of his time walking around with a tape recorder capturing ambient noises on the street that he’d eventually use for a project. The Japanese guy was thirty-years-old and on a brief stopover before leaving to Iran the next day. He didn’t speak much English and spent most of the evening playfully giggling and smiling a lot. Judging by the way he started clinging onto my arm once a little drunk, I’m pretty sure he was gay – “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Now, the Swiss German dude had been the strangest component of the group’s dynamic. I can’t remember exactly what he did for a living, but the guy lived and worked doing some sort of scientific botanical research for an NGO somewhere out in the middle of Bumblefuck, Azerbaijan. He was an alright dude with a pretty good sense of humor, but as a 34-year-old and the oldest in the group, he had this weird authoritarian air about him which was rather off-putting. He felt like he was the leader of the pack or something like that and I found that to be a pretty strange position to assume considering we’d all just met only a few hours beforehand.
Following a so-so dinner in which I ate kebab meat for the fiftieth day in a row and two beers had been consumed by each group member, we left the restaurant and walked around with no particular destination in mind. Not too much later, we ended up at a bar that had all sorts of strobe lights gleaming all over the place and a dance floor occupied by none but one very lonely looking girl, shaking it by herself in the corner to club tracks being blasted at an eardrum-rupturing volume through the speaker system.
All in all, the place was quite empty. Aside from where we sat, only one other booth had been occupied. At the bar, an additional two dudes sat on stools poundin’ drinks and fiendishly ripping one cigarette after another. It seemed like an alright place – perhaps it got more crowded as the night went on – but, for the time being, I found it way too fuckin’ loud to hold a conversation with a group of people who all had strong “foreign” accents that I’d been interested in getting to know.
Following another pair of drinks which we’d shouted over to convey thoughts and ideas, we decided to get outta there in search of a less obnoxious watering hole. On the way out, I stopped by the bar to inform one of the two dudes sitting there that we’d been wearing the exact same black-colored Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt with the band’s red, eight-pronged symbol in the middle.
It turned out that the dude was from Turkey but had spent some time in America and was so happy we’d been wearing the same shirt that he ordered our whole group a round of shots. After choosing to ignore his friend who spoke no English, the dude proceeded to chat with us about anything and everything for the next fifteen minutes. He was pretty wasted and begged us not to go – he even went so far as to bribe us with an offer of more shots – but we thanked him for that which he’d already given us, stuck to the plan and bounced.
Following another brief yet aimless walk to the next destination unknown, we stumbled across a place called Garage Pub 73 where we could hear a live band playing some Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from inside. Unlike our first stop, the place had more of a Friday feel and was packed to capacity. We decided to check it out.
There, we kind of inched our way in, got some drinks and assumed a few chairs of a half-occupied table in hope of soon taking it over as our own. As we sat with our two table co-occupants, we soon discovered that they too had been a pair of Turkish guys – if only twenty years older than the two from the previous bar – that offered to buy us round after round of whatever we wanted. I don’t know what those dudes did for dough or why they had so much of it to blow on drinks, but they refused to accept our offer of returning the favor and fed us shot after shot and beer after beer until closing time.
As is the norm once I become worse for wear, I abandoned everyone I’d arrived with and went scavenging the dance floor for poontang. During a brief break in between songs which I’d been dancing to with a very attractive Russian broad who was no doubt a salami-hiding, pay-as-you-pound professional, I stepped back over to our table to guzzle the remainder of my beer. While I was there, I said a few words to the Swiss German guy who informed me that he’d be leaving after he finished his drink.
“What dude, are you serious?” I asked. “It’s only fuckin’ midnight. Why you leaving?”
“Because our group is drunk and it is time to go,” he asserted. “And I am taking you with me.”
“Nah man. You can go if you want. I’m just gettin’ started.”
“No Tim, I am the oldest here. I am like your father. You are drunk and dancing with prostitutes. It is time to leave this behind and go to bed.”
I fuckin’ hate being told what to do by anybody – especially some jag-off I’d just met. Even if I did feel like going home at this point which I didn’t at all because I was half-in-the-bag and horny as fuck, I would’ve stayed out just to contradict this cunt-bag.
“Uh, yeah – I don’t think so dude. I’m stayin’ out. I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
With that, I exited the conversation and went to order another shot and a beer on the Turkish dudes’ tab. About ten minutes later when the group decided to go, I stepped out the front door and said goodbye to the French and Japanese guys who’d had plans of leaving early the next morning. It was during this time that the Swiss “dad of the group” really started flexin’ his nuts on me.
“You are leaving this bar and coming back with us right now!”
“Oh yeah?” I spat back. “And what if I don’t? Am I grounded for two weeks? You gonna spank me?”
With this, the guy who was about seven inches shorter than me got right in my face and stared me down with his cold blue Aryan eyes. Lisa and the Frenchman silently stood tuned in to our strange argument while the Japanese dude just kept giggling at the exchange, having no idea what was transpiring before him.
“Dude, I don’t know what your deal is,” I broke the silence, “but I’m not goin’ home with you.”
“Oh really!? What then?” he angrily began in response to my defiance. “What is so important about staying out at this bar with these people? You want to get more drunk? Dance with some more prostitutes? Will that make you happy?”
“No, it’s not gonna make me happy. Nothing’s ever gonna make me happy. I just wanna get fuckin’ wasted and I don’t need you – some fuckin’ stranger – givin’ me shit about it.”
He walked into me with his chest out and started yelling in my face.
“I don’t care! I am the oldest! I am responsible for our group! You are coming back to the hostel with us right now!”
This is when Lisa decided to step in and put a stop to the nonsense.
“Look,” she said to me, “I understand. You want to stay out and that’s okay. That’s fine. Go for it.” She turned to the Swissy. “Let him go, he is a grown man. He is not your child. You may be the oldest but you are responsible for no one here but yourself.”
“No!” he stamped his foot in anger. “He needs to come back with us!”
Never had I seen a dude so frustrated from being denied the demands of his power trip and, at that point, I’d had quite enough of it.
“Yeahhhhhh, well, I’m heading back in the bar. It was nice to meet you guys,” I said to the Frenchman and the Jap. “And uh, mom, dad – I’ll see you guys tomorrow at the hostel. G’nite.”
When I walked back in, the majority of the people still remained but the bar seemed boring and lifeless. I no longer wanted to dance with hookers and, for some reason, was quite distraught by the argument I just had with my Swiss father. Deep down, I knew he was right about everything. Nothing beneficial could’ve come from me staying at that bar but I felt the need to stick around and finish myself off anyway.
After milking the Turkish dude’s tab for one more beer, I sat down alongside a girl who’d been at a table by her lonesome. As it turns out, she didn’t even drink and had just been hanging out there because her mom was one of the bartenders. While we conversed, I bummed cigarettes like a rat from anyone I could and learned of this girl’s dreams to one day study in the US. After about an hour of comparing and contrasting her Islamic customs with American traditions, the bar came to a close. I took down her email information, said goodbye and went on my merry way.
Had I been able to call it a night there, that would’ve been a solid end to the evening. However, the Pied Piper summoned me once again and I heeded his call. I was in one of those moods where too drunk just wasn’t drunk enough and I simply could not allow myself to stop at anything short of total annihilation. So, to satisfy this depraved whim, I hopped in a cab and took it to an Irish pub called Finnegan’s I’d heard about where I planned on getting blackout demolished. Upon arrival, however, I learned that the place had shut its doors for the evening and decided to begin wandering aimlessly in hopes of encountering another venue at which I could self-destruct.
Eventually I came across some late-night, subterranean drinking establishment with a bar towards the front entrance and a dance floor towards the back. I bought a beer straight off and paid what it cost without questioning the price until I’d taken a couple slugs of what I needed. At the equivalent of around seven bucks a beer, I figured I probably couldn’t afford to get fucked up at this place without blowing my travel budget but decided to push on anyway.
After I’d gotten a few in me within the span of ten minutes, I headed over to the dance floor to rub my genitals all over whoever I could. As soon as that plan failed, I invited myself to sit down at a booth occupied by a handful of beautiful and extremely well-dressed women who I assumed to be Russian models. Their English was quite poor so I don’t know exactly what they were saying to me, but judging by the disgusted looks on their faces and the manner in which they’d all been frantically shooing me away, I could tell they’d been asking me to help them consume their very expensive looking bottle of ice cold vodka. Since I’m such a nice guy, I decided to lend a helping hand to these damsels in distress.
All jokes aside, not a minute after I’d sat down, one of the pissed-off bitches from the table I invaded went to retrieve the bouncer. As I could see them heading purposefully in my direction to remove me from the premises, I picked up the frosty bottle and chugged as much of their vodka as I could. Then, while being dragged out of their booth, I managed to grab a pack of cigarettes off the table and jammed it in my pocket before getting shoved out into the street and told not to come back. Because the bouncer had been a very, very large individual, I respected his warning and sauntered off to get my kicks elsewhere.
Once back on the streets, I pulled out the pack of smokes I’d kleptomaniacally grabbed and realized they were those super long and super skinny Capri brand cigarettes. It was a bit disappointing but I was determined to augment my buzz with some nicotine even if it did make me look like a big girly-man. Since I didn’t have a lighter, I kept up with the wandering until I encountered some cabbie on the side of the road who’d been enjoying a fag of his own. After realizing he spoke no English, I gestured I needed his lighter. He hooked it up and laughed at me as I stood there smoking the most effeminate cigarette you could possibly imagine. Following a few awkward moments of me frantically puffing my fashionably lean fag-rod like a crack addict sucking res hits from a glass dick in a back alley, I used all the Russian I knew to try and get me back to the booze.
“Morjna Pivo! Morjna Vodka!” I said to the cabbie which, to my understanding, is something like, “I would like beer! I would like vodka!”
He flicked his cigarette and, with a nod of the head, invited me to climb in the back of his cab. My Mongoloid Russian did the trick and the cabbie delivered. He let me off at the entrance of another sketchy-ass, subterranean nightclub and I paid him accordingly. This, as it turns out, is where the vodka that I uninvitedly chugged at the last club really kicked in and I lose memory of the following ten hours.
Amazingly, I remained on auto-pilot until around two the next afternoon when I regained self-awareness and found myself standing in the middle of a large, old, dark and dingy gymnasium that’d been filled with an assload of ping pong and air hockey tables. Of all these tables, only one or two were being used. I guess old fashioned diversions like that can’t compete with modern day “finger sports” as evidenced by the way everyone else at the place chose instead to crowd around a set of flat screen televisions being used by a group of bros to play FIFA on Playstation. It’d been a pretty random place to find myself in, but since I’ve come out of blackouts in stranger and more dangerous situations, I decided to roll with it. Just because I regained the ability to record memories, however, doesn’t mean that I had any sort of a grip on reality whatsoever. In fact, it may have been the most disoriented and confused I’ve ever been.
After sticking around to watch a dude score a goal on FIFA and congratulating him like he’d just been awarded the freakin’ Medal of Honor, I remember stumbling out the back door into some alley and standing in wonderment as the heat of the midday sun beat down upon my face. To my dismay, the pack of Capris that’d been full and in my possession during the last moments I could recall no longer remained.
At the time, I was having trouble remembering which country I was in and had to stop and think about it for a few moments. Once I figured it out and realized that it was the day I was due to fly out, I arbitrarily reasoned to myself that I’d already been in transit to the airport to catch my not-so-cheap, $450 flight to Turkmenistan and that the driver had stopped off to take a rest at the ping pong hall. Even though, in retrospect, this was clearly not the case, it made perfect sense to me. Subsequently, I began to panic about missing my flight because not only could I not find my cab driver, but also because I had no fuckin’ idea where my luggage had gone.
With a sober mind, I’ve always wished I could get into the head of my severely fucked-up self so I could understand how this sort of irrationality works – to observe insanity in its purest form. Sometimes I feel the need to gain some insight as to how I – a normally common-sensical, rational being – can be transformed into such a mindless, delusional zombie by some shitty potion I continually and willfully choose to put in my system. But I can’t and I’ll never be able to. It’s quite scary and drives me nuts knowing how nuts I can be while heavily under the influence.
To my knowledge, in all the time I’ve spent wasted – an amount which totals up to entire months of my life – this incident in Baku had only been the second time in which I was so out of my mind that I resorted to violence to solve whatever problem I imagined I was amid while on a serious bender. The only other occurrence I’m aware of had been about three or four years ago while tying one on with my cousin Jack at his new apartment near Belmont & Western on Chicago’s north side.
On the evening of which I speak, I showed up bearing a housewarming fifth of Jameson which The Cuz and I proceeded to down in little over an hour. Nice and buzzed after the personal 375mL dosages, we spoke on the phone with Jack’s roommate who said he’d fancy a drink or two upon completion of his shift as a paramedic on a private ambulance company, so we decided to get some more. Appropriately, we walked two blocks up Western Avenue to the nearby Jewel-Osco from where we’d get our second helping.
“Yo, let’s uh…,” I began pleading my case, “…let’s get the big one this time since there’ll be three of us drinking.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack agreed as he picked up a handle of Jameson from the shelf. “I’ll get this – you grab another two-liter of pop to mix with this shit. ‘Cause I ain’t drinkin’ it straight.”
“Okay,” I did what I was told and we started walking towards the register in the front.
There must’ve been something I missed because when we got to the checkout, Jack walked right past the cashier and out the door without even thinking of paying for the thirty-something dollar bottle of booze. I stood dumbfounded at the register as the shoplifting alarm blared throughout the store. Since it’d been pretty late, we were the only customers in there at the time and it was fairly obvious that we’d come in together. Thankfully, the guy at the register didn’t seem to give a shit about anything other than the end of his shift. In fact, “You need a bag for that?” is the only thing the employee of the month said to me as I paid two dollars for pop to mix with the shoplifted bottle of liquor.
I caught up with Jack down the block and asked him about his surprise exit.
“Eh, yeah,” he casually shrugged with conscience dulled by the whiskey. “I didn’t really feel like payin’ for this shit right now, y’know.”
“Oh,” I responded, “okay.”
“I should probably get my groceries from somewhere else for a while, though. They might remember my face.”
Fast-forward several hours and a handle of whiskey later…
My cousin, his roommate Andy and I had all been sitting in their living room talking about god knows what as my body and brain felt like they were floating through another dimension. I had no idea what the fuck was going on but for whatever reason can recall being under the impression that Jack and Andy had intended on stripping me naked, tying me up and torturing me the way Daniel Craig got tortured as James Bond in Casino Royale. To avert this horrifying outcome, I reasoned that the only way to save my testicles had been to stand up, throw my cousin out of his chair and start kicking him in the face. So, I did just that.
As soon as a much more sober Andy witnessed this aggressive move, he pulled me off his roomy and the two of them gave me all that I deserved in return for the violent outburst. Obviously, regardless of how self-defensive the preemptive move had seemed to me at the time, I was totally in the wrong and it was quite embarrassing to remember these things and be told all about it when I woke up battered on their couch the next morning. Ashamedly, the lines between fact and fiction in Baku appeared just as blurred.
As I continued to freak out about the flight, the mysteriously absent cab driver and the disappearing luggage, I began wandering down the alley behind the ping pong gymnasium. Somewhere along the line, I noticed the back door of a store had been open and decided to stumble in. Inside, the place had been completely gutted and up towards the storefront had been two Azerbaijani dudes taping the drywall. My logic at the time told me that they’d been holding my bags hostage.
“Hey,” I called out as I walked in the room from the back of the shop, “where the FUCK are my bags!?”
The two guys just looked at me, having no idea what in the hell I was talking about.
“I know you got ‘em,” I inched closer, never taking my eyes off the captors of my possessions. “Don’t even try to play me like you don’t.”
One of the guys said something in Azerbaijani and they both laughed then decided to ignore me and got back to work. This angered me. I couldn’t stand not being taken seriously when I was “so close to missing my expensive-ass flight.”
“Hey, you stupid motherfucker,” I called for their full attention as I shoved their six-foot step ladder to the ground, “I asked you a god damn question!”
Once they realized they were dealing with a psycho and decided they best not ignore me no mo’, I felt I could once again ask the question that’d been plaguing me.
“Where the fuck are you hiding my bags?”
“No! You go!” one guy yelled as they began ushering me out the back. “No bag! Go! You go now!”
“Ahhhhhhhh!” I shouted in frustration as I rushed back out the rear door into the alley.
They didn’t follow me.
While out there, I began peering into their work van certain that’s where my bags were being held. After attempting to open the doors which had all been locked, I hurriedly looked around for something with which to shatter the window to climb in and rescue my luggage. Half a minute later, I returned with a brick and stood at the side of the passenger window ready to bust it open. There, I decided not to pull the trigger but remained sure my shit was still in the ride.
I shouted as I spiked the brick on the ground in a frustrated rage. So involved in this psychotic, booze-induced episode, I saw no scenario other than one involving those guys hijacking my bag on the way to the airport to be remotely possible. It didn’t occur to me that I never went to sleep and still hadn’t been back to the hostel since I went out for dinner the night before. Accordingly, I felt compelled to settle the matter.
Now, these guys were big dudes – like, dudes with bear-claw hands who’ve done physical labor with lots of heavy lifting their entire lives. I cannot stress how fortunate and thankful I am to have escaped this situation without getting my ass kicked or getting thrown in prison for being so out-of-line-hammered in a Muslim-ass country. That said…
I stormed back in, kicking whatever tools and shit were in the way and went right up to the guy closest to the back door who I shoved against the wall before trying to steal the car keys off his belt loop.
“Gimme your keys motherfucker! Give ‘em to me!” I demanded as I wrestled for what I was after. “I know you got my bag in that truck! I fuckin’ know it”
Without an English word spoken, the other guy pulled me away as the dude who I attacked ran out the front door and soon returned with an officer who must’ve been standing or parked nearby.
After the interrupted carpenter had angrily explained the situation to the cop in their language while pointing and making hand gestures in my direction, the officer of the law turned his attention towards me for my side of the story.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in a surprisingly clear English.
“I was on the way to the airport and these motherfuckers stole my backpack! It’s in their truck! It’s in there! I know they got it!”
The officer looked back and explained what I’d said to the carpenter who shrugged and mumbled something in Azerbaijani.
“Okay, let’s go to auto,” the carpenter switched over to his strongly-accented English for my benefit then began leading the way out the back. “No bag in auto – you crazy.”
“Yeah,” I said, so sure of myself, “we’ll see about that.”
All four of us marched out back to the van, the dude unlocked it and just as it shouldn’t have been – my shit was nowhere to be found.
“I tell you,” the guy pointed at me with an open, upward-facing palm, “no bag! You crazy!”
My reality was shattered.
I looked at the officer who was already looking concernedly in my direction.
“Where is your hotel?” he asked.
I pulled out a business card I had in my wallet and showed him.
“Okay,” he was so cool about the whole thing. “You get in a taxi right now, you go to your hotel and you go to sleep.”
I nodded obediently but, before I left, I felt the need to apologize.
“Sorry man,” I said while looking back at the carpenter I assaulted as he re-locked his vehicle. “I really thought you stole my bag.”
He gave me the biggest “you’re-a-fuckin’-idiot” look I’ve ever gotten and, with an indicative brush of the hand, suggested I move onward. The officer lead me back through the shop and out onto the main street where I was put in a cab and sent on my way.
Once back at the hostel, the worried female owner and Lisa immediately ran up to assist me as I staggered in while my disappointed Swiss dad stood back with an “I told you so,” father-knows-best look on his face.
“You no come back last night,” the owner asked, “what happened?”
“I got robbed,” I whimpered as they helped my physically and emotionally drained ass up the stairs. “Someone stole my bags and now I’m gonna miss my flight!”
As we walked into the dorm room, the owner flipped on the light, revealing both my big-ass backpack and my daypack exactly where I’d left them twenty hours beforehand when I’d gone out to dinner. After checking my itinerary, I realized my flight wasn’t for another six hours, set an alarm on my iPod Touch, laid down, closed my eyes and put an official end to that absolute mind-fuck of a bender.
As promised, here are a few photos from my little night on the town: