Chapter 54 – A Product of My Environment
For the entire month of May 2013, I’d gone on a tour through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan with a British company called Dragoman Overland. A group of about twenty had been led by two Western guides who were employed by Dragoman as well as a local guide who’d met us at the border of each of the three countries we’d entered and then stuck with us until our exit. The bus we travelled on wasn’t very big but had been built to drive on unpaved paths and such in the remote regions we’d be visiting. If my inner-child were trying to convey to you how the vehicle appeared, he’d say it was a lot like the one lived in by that nomadic family on the Nickelodeon cartoon The Wild Thornberrys.
In many respects, the trip was amazing. The culture was fantastic and the people were great. I saw and did some incredible shit I’ll never have the chance to see or do ever again. On the other hand, it’d been one of the worst times of my life in regard to my mental health. To me, it seemed that, during this month, all my unresolved childhood issues that I’d suppressed over the years were coming to a head. And like I had over the seven years previous, I tried my best to keep these issues suppressed by drinking outrageous amounts of vodka. I mean, when big-ass bottles of the shit had been priced at a buck each from local markets, I pretty much felt like I couldn’t afford to NOT narcotize my neurosis on a daily basis. But here is where this system of dealing with such things ultimately began to break down on me.
After I’d emerged from that extended blackout in Azerbaijan whereupon I wandered into a construction site and started shoving around some carpenter who I’d arbitrarily reasoned had stolen my backpack, I showed up at the airport in Baku to catch a flight across the Caspian to Ashgabat where I was supposed to begin the Dragoman tour. As it so happens, I’d gotten to the airport a bit earlier than was necessary and found out they hadn’t even been checking passengers in for my flight as of yet. Seeing that I was still immensely intoxicated from the last episode even after having slept all afternoon at the hostel, this peeved me greatly. With no seating available in the check-in area, I ended up just sprawling out on the middle of the floor whereupon I almost immediately fell back into a drunken coma.
“Hello sir,” said one from the bunch of airport employees that’d been crowded around me about an hour after I’d laid down, “are you drunk, sir?”
“No, I’m just tired.”
“No sir, I think you are drunk.”
“Well, why’d you even ask me if you already had your mind made up?”
“Where are you supposed to be going today sir?”
“Hmm Ashgabat. I’m afraid you are too drunk to fly sir. We can’t let you on the plane.”
“That’s bullshit. I got here early so I could sleep at the gate before my flight after having checked in. It’s not my fault you don’t start checking passengers in at a normal time. And here’s my biggest problem, with no chairs around for people to sit on, aside from the floor, where the hell else is someone supposed to relax if they’re too tired to stand and wait for you guys to get your shit together at the check-in desk? I can’t afford to miss this four-hundred-dollar flight because you clowns don’t know how to run an airport. I’m getting on that plane.”
“I’m sorry sir, it’s against Lufthansa policy to let…”
“I ain’t flyin’ Lufthansa. I’m flyin’ Turkish.”
“Oh, you are on the Turkish flight to Ashgabat?”
“Yeah via Istanbul. Not direct.”
“Oh, okay. Well, let’s go ahead and get you checked in then.”
I wanted to ask why I was too drunk to fly on one airline but not another but didn’t wanna accidentally convince them that their policy didn’t make any sense and end up fucking myself out of four-hundred bucks and missing the start of my tour so I kept a lid on it and caught my flight to Turkmenistan.
A few days later, once I’d met everyone in the group, an older Australian guy named Joe who I hadn’t yet had a one-on-one conversation with came up to me and started one.
“You’re the guy,” he said.
“I’m what guy?”
“You’re that crazy drunken guy I saw lying on the floor at the airport in Baku, yelling at everybody.”
“Oh shit. You saw that?”
He saw it indeed. And he’d told a few of the other group members about it as well. By no means was anyone judgmental – I mean, pretty much everyone in the group drank their fair share – but I would’ve preferred not having my reputation as a crazy alcoholic asshole preceding me on this trip as it so often had wherever I went in the past. Then again, perhaps it was a good thing because, in turn, no one was all that surprised when I got beyond loaded almost every day for the entire month.
One night in Khiva, Uzbekistan, our group had gone out to dinner. We ate in an outdoor courtyard amid medieval-looking, winding alleyways. During dinner I’d taken down a bottle of wine and after dinner when almost everyone went back to the hotel, I sat down at a table and started conversing with a group of Russians who turned out to be vacationing nuclear scientists. A sixty-three-year-old Alaskan man who went by the name Leopard had decided to join me.
After hanging out with the Russians for a bit who’d also ended up going to bed, we walked around and found another place that’d still been serving booze where we had round after round of a shot and a beer until the place closed. I was pretty hammered but Leopard was fucking wrecked. I had to guide him back to the hotel, making sure he didn’t fall over or get lost. Once I made sure he was safe and sound back in his room, I went back out wandering around, looking for a place to keep drinking. I asked everyone I encountered along the way where I could find some more booze or a place to party. Almost everyone shrugged because they either didn’t know English or didn’t wanna talk to me. The exception had been one young Uzbek guy who was wise beyond his years that told me, “The party is wherever you are.”
Turns out, I couldn’t find a place where I could keep on destroying myself and returned to the hotel. Early the next morning, we were about to leave on the bus to go to the next town but had been waiting for Leopard who eventually ended up stumbling out, looking like shit on a stick. His arm was dripping with blood and he had a major bump on his head.
“Uh, hey,” he said to one of our Western tour guides, “I was, uh, pretty drunk in the shower this morning and had an accident. I lost my balance and tried to stay up by grabbing onto the shower curtains but they came down with me. And, uh, when I was falling, my arm went through the mirror over the sink and knocked it off the wall.”
“Jesus. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s what an old guy like me gets for trying to keep up with Tim. But, uh, I just thought I should tell you because with the curtains ripped down and all the blood all over the floor from the mirror, the bathroom kinda looks like Norman Bates just killed someone in there and they’re probably gonna want some money for the damage.”
Because I realize that the drunkenness of others is not my fault, in no way did I shoulder any of the blame for what happened to Leopard and in no way did any of the group members expect me to. Nevertheless, the incident reinforced my reputation as a huge drunk-ass which is something that I’ve never ever wanted for myself.
A few days after this, our group stopped at a yurt camp in the middle of some rural-ass area near a town called Nurata where disaster awaited my arrival. On our first and only night there, after downing a bottle of vodka on an empty stomach while sitting around a campfire, I’d entered one of the prolonged memory lapses for which I’ve become well-known.
The next day I was told that, while everyone was still awake, I’d punched one of my fellow campers in the testicles and another in the stomach. And then I was informed that, after everyone had gone to bed, I’d gone into the kitchen of the main yurt, tossed a bunch of ceramic tea pots at the wall, urinated all over the kitchen leaving evidence that suggested I pulled my dick out and just spun in a circle peeing on everything I could until my bladder was completely empty, tossed all the camp-owned chairs onto the roofs of several yurts and then woke everyone up while shouting slurred & warbled death threats at the people who owned the place that I ultimately left “looking like World War II.”
The next day, I met with the owner of the yurt camp. She was a tough-looking, forty-something-year-old blonde-haired Russian woman that chain-smoked cigarettes and didn’t seem all that surprised by my behavior. I figured her countrymen must act like that all the time while visiting her camp. She casually imparted that fifty US dollars should cover all the damage that I’d done the night before. I found that fair enough and handed over the compensation before apologizing and heading off to the next destination.
While on the Dragoman bus, I sat near three twenty-eight-year-old Swiss guys, two of whom I’d struck the day beforehand.
“Crazy Tim,” said the Swissy named Patrick. “That’s your new nickname.”
“Listen dude, I’m sorry I punched you in the stomach and…”
“You didn’t punch me in the stomach, you punched him in the stomach,” he nodded at one of his buddies. “You punched me in my best parts.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Well, I’m sorry to both of you for wherever or why ever I may have punched you.”
“Forget about it, Crazy Tim. But I gotta ask you,” he said, pointing to my midsection, “why is it you wear a seatbelt on this bus when you go through the rest of your life without wearing one?”
“Shit,” I laughed at the cleverness of the question, “I don’t know, man. I seem to find it hard to give a shit anymore.”
“What don’t you give a shit about?”
“Well, you seem to give a shit about other people otherwise you wouldn’t have paid the money for the broken things at the yurt camp and you wouldn’t have apologized to us for your actions.”
“I don’t like being an asshole to people.”
“Yeah, I can see – you’re quite ashamed of yourself.”
“I know. So, when you say you don’t give a shit about anything, you can understand why I don’t believe you. Seems to me, the only person you don’t really give a shit about is yourself.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Are your friends like you back home?” he followed up. “Do they all get as wasted as you do?”
“Yeah,” I sighed, deciding to let my guard down. “I guess I’ve always surrounded myself with people who like to break shit and get super fucked up – people who enjoy their moderation in moderation, if you will. I mean, it’s what I grew up around. I grew up in a house where my parents and their friends were always getting drunk and everything could be fine one moment but then after taking down one too many, my mom and dad would be shouting at each other and shoving each other around. And, uh, because of this I, uh, found it hard to relate to what people would refer to as ‘normal’ kids. And so I just always got along better with kids who grew up in the same shit because I understood them and they understood me – that sorta thing, ya know?”
Patrick just nodded at what I said.
“So yeah,” I continued, “for the most part, my friends are a lot like me and can’t seem to handle the circumstances they were born into without getting hammered and being shitty to other people. I actually got this story I wrote on my computer not too long ago about a couple guys I grew up with who dealt with similar sorta shit when they were kids. One of ‘em went to the same college as me and every time the third guy came up to visit us – this dude that I used to call ‘The E-Train’ – it’d be a total fuckin’ disaster. It’s a story that highlights how, everywhere we go, people are amazed by how big of drunken dickheads we are.”
“What’s it called?”
“It’s called ‘The E-Train Derailed.’ I’ll letchya read it later if ya want.”
“Yeah, perhaps later when we arrive at the hotel in the next town, I’ll have to give it a read. I’d like to learn more about the origins of Crazy Tim.”
Photos of the yurt camp I destroyed…