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Recent Work By Kip Tobin

MADRID, SPAIN

When I lived in Segovia, Spain in 1993 on a study abroad program, I saw my first bullfight.

I was 20 and full of post-teen angst and mid-college confusion, sympathetic to all underdogs in the world, including bulls.

I remember being nauseated by the spectacle: a bull charges into the ring and after 20 minutes is dragged out, punctured, bloodied and lifeless.

Fat Spanish men gnaw on wet cigars and yell vulgarities or praises, depending on the bull and bullfighter.

The bulls rarely stand a chance of surviving a bullfight.

The message read Feliz Navidad Guapisimo!

Spaniards toss around the word guapo/a as if it were a definite article, but the extra oomph given to any noun with -isimo/a is not to be taken lightly and should be considered serious flirtation.

The number had no name attached to it, but I assumed it was from a girl, as most men don’t call other men guapisimo unless they’re gay or being facetious.

I had just gotten through customs at Madrid’s Barajas airport on New Year’s Eve and turned on my phone.

Without even considering who it could be, I replied Feliz Año Nuevo Guapisima! in spite of my disdain for exclamation points.

Fortune and the year 2007 seemed certain.

Emerging from the metro near my home, a reply came back from the same unrecognized number. It read, Pasalo genial esta noche. Nos vemos en clase, which meant she was a student of mine and I would find out within the week who it was.

Her name turned out to be Itziar (pronounced eat-SEE-are). I love uncommon names, the rarer the better and this one topped the list of exotic names. To boot, she was easily the most physically fit and attractive one at a company of about 100 women where I taught her in class. I had even made the conscious decision at the beginning of the 2006 school year to continue teaching at that company merely to be around her.

The following Friday evening I texted her a question about salsa dancing and if she knew where classes were offered. After a few back-n-forth messages, she finally sent me this bomb: I know that in Tropical House they give classes, I don’t know which day exactly. I can offer myself as a partner but what I would really like is to know if you’re doing anything this evening because you seem like a very interesting person and I would like to get to know you better and, if we end up dancing, all the better…

My pupils widened and blood rushed to my genitals. I almost dropped the phone.

I immediately canceled my other plans that evening and was over at her house within 2 hours.

She opened the door; the dream began.

She was wearing tight-yet-comfortable sweatpants and a tank top that revealed about four inches of tight skin covering muscled indentations. Her face was uncomplicated by paint and highlights. Despite her Basque name, she grew up in the Andalusian town of Malaga and appeared somewhere outside the realm of the guide book Spanish woman. That is, her hair was light brown and not raven black; her eyes were bluish-green instead of brown and her skin leaned toward a paler shade of olive. Her twenty-eight year old face maintained a simple contentment, unwrinkled by fixed expressions. She spoke very softly.

She gave me the tour of her flat, explaining that her roommate was out of town for the weekend and she had the flat all to herself.

She looked at me smiled.

Blood rushed to my face, and my genitals. I smiled and looked away.

She cooked while we talked. I kept averting extended looks, wondering to myself what I was doing in her flat. I tried to act natural and not acknowledge the fact that she revealed a midriff that sparkled a belly button ring highlighting abs that she probably spent several hours a week on. Her breasts were magazine perfect.

I understood that she was my student and this was completely outside the professional boundaries that were established by my language academy. But damn, it felt oh-so-right to be there and notions of boundaries quickly vanished in the reflection of her ab ring.

We listened to Nina Simone and ate from a full spread of tortilla, salmon and brie, croquetas and a spinach salad, washed down with a Reserva Tinto from Rioja from 1996. Good year.

Quieres salir para bailar?

Sí, bueno, si quieres.

Me visto y nos vamos – vale?

Vale.

I offered to wash up the dishes while she got ready but she insisted there was no way I was doing her dishes, that I was her guest and I should just sit down on the sofa, relax and wait. I agreed.

In the living room I perused her copy of Los Detectives Salvajes. (The Savage Detectives)

I looked at the ceiling. A huge concave indentation, like a inverted golden saucer being sucked into the upper floor, decorated the room, gave it a retro-Roman dome feel.

I took out my camera and pushed a button.

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I intended to snap a shot of her sometime that evening but opportunity and memory failed me.

She came out of her room wearing knee-high glossy boots, the same tank top and suspenders.

Women in boots always look definitely serious and unarguably sexual, but suspenders? Never had suspenders looked so alluring.

On the street, she suggested going to this club called 69 petalos. I agreed. In the club, every guy in the club looked at her, then at me. I felt somehow unworthy and worthy. The shy part felt like she was way out of my league and the arrogant part felt like, “Wait a sec…that’s right, I’m the man.” We danced to some 80s classics for about an hour and she suggested that we go. I agreed.

I agreed to everything she suggested that night: dinner, dancing, not washing her dishes and sharing her single bed overnight.

I awoke early and in the morning sunlight that layered her half-covered naked body, I saw an inch-long faint-but-noticeable scar on the lower part of her breast. As I dressed I could see a picture of her topless on a beach with breasts that weren’t nearly as round as the ones that were now attached so perfectly attached to her body.

One and one made two.

I realized I had left my scarf and, in an attempt to be poetic and romantic all at once, I sent a message to the effect of: I dreamed last night that a beautiful woman made me dinner, we went dancing and then had a wonderful night in the dark. When I awoke, I realized my scarf was missing.

She replied immediately saying that, yes, last night was something special and she would give me the scarf the next time we met, which she wanted to be that same night.

The next week in class I was a nervous, stammering twat. The class was comprised of six women and the lights in the meeting/class room were piercing and relentless. After class via text, she asked me if I was okay giving her class, if I felt comfortable. I lied and told her yes; the truth was I had never experienced such a high heart rate and self-consciousness while giving classes.

Having a student as a lover, especially a secretive one, was exhilarating because it was partially wrong,  nerve-wracking because it was partially right and twat-inducing because of its secrecy.

Several weeks passed and this formula repeated: dinner, movie, sex and sleep. Conversation between us wasn’t exactly as electrifying as the sex, and thus it wasn’t explored or developed. What we did talk about didn’t move very far beyond our days (her pilates class or the progress of what I was writing), the movie we just watched, or our separate and joint plans for the weekend.

To negligibly greater or lesser degrees, this is probably the composite whole of too many relationships throughout the world.

After about four weeks, she came over and wrote on the whiteboard in my living room.

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Te quiero mucho que la trucha al trucho!!

This Spanish saying doesn’t rhyme in English because we don’t have gendered nouns, but it basically says, “I love you very much like the female trout to the male trout.”

Several Spaniards told me this is something a mother would say to her baby, that it’s cute because mucho rhymes with trucho and that I shouldn’t put too much stock in it, i.e. she’s not declaring love, just being cute.

But just to see the words “Te quiero mucho…” forced me to evaluate her as more than just a lover, the potential one (or one of the ones) or even just a consistent girlfriend — part of the idyllic Spanish life I had wanted since arriving.

Other hints, notes and pet names appeared. “Mi amor…” , “Cielo” and more. She even once offered to marry me in order to get me papers. I doubted she was serious at the time, but it surely drew me further into her.

In some email early in March I mentioned that I had changed my mind about wanting to wait until the weekend to see her. I wrote …cambie de mentewhich I thought was how you’d say I changed my mind.

She replied, slyly correcting me with Has cambiado de idea? Vale.

You learn the details of a language like this, with subtle corrections.

So on my ever growing stack of flashcards, I wrote down the proper translation of the expression, “to change one’s mind.”

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In Spanish, to change one’s mind is to change one’s idea (literally).

It makes no intuitive sense and the more you think about it, neither does it in English. It just sounds natural to you because you’ve always said it that way. If I could have any real influence in how this should be said, I would propose that everyone says change one’s opinion, because this is precisely what happens.

You hold an opinion of someone or something and then it–not your mind–changes for reasons either external, internal or both.

One week later on Sunday evening I messaged her that I didn’t feel well and that we should get together later in the week.

She didn’t reply.

I called her.

She didn’t answer.

I called her an hour later.

Same result.

I messaged and called her the next day as well.

No reply.

She didn’t come to class on Tuesday.

I emailed her and after a full week, she replied.

In an email that consisted of five sentences, she told me she needed time to think and that she would call me the following day.

No call.

Two weeks later, after I had pleaded for some sort of explanation to the silence, she finally took the time out to write me a ten sentence email.

How generous.

She said that she had been a coward in facing me, that she was a very closed person and she had built up walls to protect herself, that she felt like she needed to be alone and that blah blah it’s-not-your-fault-it’s-mine blah.

A few times over the course of the next four months I saw her fleetingly in the company where I taught. Twice she walked by and our eyes met just before one of us disappeared into another room.

I once walked past her at the copier and felt nervous, resentful blood rushing all over.

The dream disappeared with her change of mind, shortly after she corrected me on how to say it properly.

If it weren’t for a picture of her ceiling, two of my friends that met her briefly and this damn flashcard…

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I wouldn’t have any proof as to her existence.

I try not to see the irony in it, but it’s too obvious.

I wrote this particular saying down because of her correcting me and it precisely and concisely describes her final action regarding me.

What an unforgettable way to learn an idiomatic expression.

Now, a year later, I realize how lucky I am to have never liked fake breasts.

DAY 1

After exchanging the obligatory pleasantries, I sat down at his desk across from him.

I explained to the man that I hadn’t been to a dentist since I moved here, over four years ago. I assured him that I flossed pretty regularly and had a pretty good diet and that, apart from the fact that I was in the bitter two-week psychological throes of quitting smoking, that nothing really alarmed me bucal-wise or was noteworthy.

He stood up and directed me to the chair.

Everything about the man was broad. His head was wide but properly aligned. I’d say he was in his early 50s. His belly commanded respect and signaled the direction he wanted you to go.

The soft drone of its motor filled the office.

I eased back into a supine human horizon.

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The light illuminated my widely opened mouth and in went the metal objects: the little circular mirror and elongated metal toothpick with the extension cord.

He poked around a bit, mentioned something to his assistant, a young olive-skinned woman named Susana. He was about to put the objects back into my mouth when he stopped and said a sentence that included the word ongos, or mushrooms.

I couldn’t be sure but it it sounded like he said something to the effect of, “It’s absolutely amazing the amount of fungii that live in our mouths. It’s like an enormous planet of its own existing in there.”

He sounded like he was smiling underneath his face mask, like what he just said was a revelation that had never occurred to him before I became supine and he stuck his gloved hands in my mouth.

He started calling out numbers to his assistant who quickly annotated them in my peripheral vision.

“Do you wet your toothbrush before brushing your teeth?”

Sí.

He chuckled and then spoke in metaphors behind his mask: “If you go hiking in the woods and your shoes get really dirty – how do you clean them? You use a shoe brush, of course, but do you wet it first? No, you don’t. Why? Because wetting a brush before brushing is like turning dirt into mud. You’re just spreading it around.”

Pués, la verdad es que nunca me lo he fijado.

“So stop wetting your brush before you brush your teeth.”

Vale.

“Do you rinse?”

Por supuesto.

“You need to start filling a small cup with 2 parts tap water and 1 part oxidized water.”

Agua oxigenado?

“Yes, swish it around in your mouth for a least a minute and spit it out.”

Ok.

“But don’t rinse with regular tap water after. Just leave it in there.”

Y Listerine? Puedo utilizarlo – no?

“You can but it’s pretty expensive and not good for your stomach.”

Pero no lo traigo.
“But I don’t swallow it.

“The choice is yours.”

The motor’s drone started and soon I was upright.

He explained they needed an x-ray and that I should go and get one as soon as I could, then make another appointment.

I walked out of his office, my head filled with mushrooms and hydrogen peroxide.

That night I brushed my teeth without wetting the bristles for the first time. My mouth produced enough salivia to make it one of the most fulfilling and serendipitous brushings I’ve ever had.

***

DAY 2

A week later, I slide the x-ray across the desk. His thick spectacles were nestled comfortably at the end of his nose and the upper rim divided his pupils into two planes.

He looked down at the little chart of my mouth with my numbered teeth, then up at the x-ray.

He looked down and up again.

I sat in silence, wanting to say something.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up.

He looked like someone famous, a Latin American writer.

Down, up and down and up he looked.

Gabby Marquéz?

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Perhaps. Sans ‘stache and with boxed spectacles.

A minute passed while he was comparing the x-ray to the paper teeth chart.

He finally spoke: “Número treinta y tres, veinte y cuatro…y…cuarenta y siete son sospechosos. Parecen interrogantes.”

Certain numbered teeth were suspicious. They had interrogators in there and needed to come out or be filled or muted or whatever dentists in Spain to with interrogators.

“You have three cavities, he said, two small ones and one bigger one.”

Damn.

“Schedule another appointment and we’ll get them taken care of.”

I hate to admit this but I didn’t love Cien Años de Soledad very much. His short stories are hard to match but that book was exasperatingly long and magically neutral for me. I do, however, think I understand why it’s considered a modern masterpiece and hold no ill-will toward people who esteem it so.

***

DAY 3

“Susana’s not here today,” he said, “so we’re only going to fill one of your cavities. You can come back when she’s here.”

I laid back in the chair and he put on the gloves and mask.

He poked at my teeth: “There it is.”

He pulled out various jars of cream and a needle and placed them on the swivel table that was dangerously close to the chair. He reached over and grabbed what looked a futuristic hair dryer, only it was for teeth. He set it on his lap.

“A woman came to my office last year and she had a yellow tongue and was complaining about how bad her breath was. So I put my hand on her stomach for a second and felt pockets of air. I asked her how often she went to the bathroom and she said once a week. Once a week? How often to do you eat? She said every day about 2 or 3 times per day. Well you should go to the bathroom at least that many times. Or at least twice. You can’t shit just once a week. “

Why are you telling me this?

“Do you know what she did? She complained to the head office that I was attempting to touch her. She also said that I invited her to a party.”

Well, you did lay your hand on her stomach. And you are a dentist, not a doctor.

“But I’m a doctor too. I’ve studied Eastern medicines.”

Uh. Huh.

“My boss called me in after that and interrogated me, asked if I was trying to pawn off this new-age claptrap on my patients. I told him that a fusion of Eastern and Western medicine would save the world from suffering. Have you ever read a book called ‘Meditation as Medicine‘?”

He pried my mouth open, sticking two mini cotton tubes in and started drilling.

“Our bodies are comprised of energy. Have you ever been talking to someone and suddenly you feel that you don’t like this person, you don’t like the energy he or she is giving off?

I think I know exactly what you are talking about at this very moment.

“Well those are poles clashing.”

The sound and sensation of metal drills on teeth rank up there next to sticking my hand into my Proctor-Selex blender set to level six, puree.

“There is aligned and misaligned energy. If you are in touch with your energy and you know how to channel it, your potentialities are limitless. I once saw a woman who had a brain tumor the size of an egg. She channeled her energy fully on the tumor and it was gone in four days.”

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That’s incredible.

“I have a friend who’s a doctor in the US named Deepak Chopra and I was on a retreat with him and some other dentists. All the other dentists were textbook Western practitioners. Deepak and I were discussing channeling energy and how if much of the world had this insight, many of the problems in the world would cease to exist.”

Deepak Chopra is a dentist?

“So these dentist naysayers were making fun of us when we were outside talking about this and he told them, ‘Pick a rock’, which they did. He looked at it, focused his energy, aligned it and the rock exploded.”

That’s incredulous.

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He stopped drilling, took his thumb and pressed down decisively on the soft part under my tongue, a part which, when I think about it, has probably never been consciously touched by anyone.

I wondered if he was trying to align my energy, and if he was, that it was somewhat discomforting.

He took the tooth dryer and began drying off the filling.

You’re not Spanish – aren’t you?

“No, I’m Columbian.”

Marquéz for sure.

The room started to fill up with something.

I felt imbued with positivity in spite of all his chaotic malapropisms.

He returned me to my normal sitting position.

“There you go. Listen, the world is full of things you would never believe. There’s this thing called Tantric sex where it recycles the natural energy in one’s body. Talk about alignment. The thing is you can’t ejaculate.”

Please stop.

“When you ejaculate, all of the energy or ‘chi’ as they call it gushes forth. In that gush lies much of your energy and pretty much all of your alignment.”

I know, I read ‘The Multi-Orgasmic Man’.

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Well, most of it. Skimmed through some parts.

“So you can have full body orgasms, you just can’t ejaculate. It’s absolutely–“

Please.

“incredible. Tell you what – I’ll bring you this book ‘Meditation as Medicine’ when you come in for your next appointment. When will you be back – next week? How about Tuesday at noon?”

Stop.

The subway train slows into the station and smoothes to a soft, comfortable stop.

It’s the fourth stop on my five-stop ride.

There are no seats available and I find myself standing directly opposite the set of entrance/exit doors.

Doors open, several people exit.

In the wake of their exit stands a rugged-looking hombre in his early 40s, holding a tall-boy of Mahoua Classica in one hand–the Madrileña king of beers–and a cigarette in the other. His dark green trenchcoat is bedraggled and frayed; his well-worn jeans end to reveal a pair of once-white tennis shoes that look like they were soaked for days in asparagus-alimented piss.

At his feet lies an old typewriter.

Spain is a country teeming with pleasure seeking.

Having become a democracy only 30 years ago, this country exudes a type of national adolescence that is hell-bent on vices and enjoying the party as long as it lasts.

You can see it when you walk down any street on any evening around midnight and witness an entire family eating a meal well beyond midnight, the parents sipping on wine and smoking cigarettes while the kids thumb away at a Game boy; Or going to any random cafeteria or bar on any given morning around 10 am and you’ll see some variety of men, young to old, all propped up on the bar, working a grit while sipping some form of a spirit; Or especially in Madrid, if your body and wallet are able to endure, you can start the night at 10 pm for dinner and walk out of a discotheque on the other end of town at 7 am. In fact, it’s possible, to go out on Friday evening and not come back home until early Monday morning, if you want. I’ve never done this but have seen the ghosts and their wild, ringed eyes floating around on the metro early Monday morning while everyone else stands in silent horror at the five days forthcoming. This doesn’t even include Ibiza, the land of unadulterated drug use, never-ending house music and dance-floor orgies.

This penchant for pleasure is understatedly impressive and particularly widespread during the
summer when most cities, towns and pueblos have their yearly festivals.

Few things demonstrated this more than visiting Pontevedra’s “Fiesta de la Peregrina”on Saturday, August 10th.

It was their local yearly celebration of the saint “La Divina Peregrina”, who this sanctuary was named after:

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I was visiting Faye, a good friend and fellow writer, who was visiting her father Colin, a permanent resident of Pontevedra.

Faye, Colin and I went into the old part of the city for a few drinks. We discussed the second paragraph of this phlog at length, this hedonism and how it related to their ability to shun any future worry.

To some extent, we wanted to be more like them, able to extract all the preciousness of time available to us while we are here. Yet we agreed that the side effect of it frustrates us sometimes: to truly live in the moment is to party like it’s Armageddon, but it’s also to walk down the street so lackadaisically and carefree, breathing it all in and unworried about where they are going, what time they should be there or who is right behind them trying to get through. And since we tend to walk quite fast in our rushed Anglo mindsets, we are unable to pass and are ultimately perturbed at their slowness.

Our cultures don’t normally have festivals quite like these, certainly nothing like the one that was raging all around us in the old part of Pontevedra.

This festival was largely centered around something I’d never seen before, Peñas.

Peñas are essentially drinking groups.

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Groups of people, seen at least in pairs and sometimes in groups of 10 or more, who wear the same colored shirt.

Each shirt has the creative name of their Peña along with the first name of every person in the Peña.

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The older groups get together to drink and see the bullfights.

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And the younger groups get together to just drink.

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As you can see in this picture above, these girls aren’t even close to being barely legally able to drink.

This festival was not only allowing underage drinking, it was encouraging and celebrating it, en masse.

The shopping cart you see there is most likely full of cheap box wine and cola, something they mix together to make a drink called Calimocho.

Calimocho, sometimes spelled Kalimotxo, is a drink that tastes like cheap wine and cola, mixed together.

When the night descended, we moved to see the fireworks in an area akin to an American county fair.

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Portable rides, a fun house, food stands, stuffed animal toss-a-ball games, squirt gun shoot-a-hole car races and plenty of portable stands selling cheap Chinese-manufactured goods.

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They had a french fry stand run by three men watching tennis, one of which was a grumpy fat old man with an eye patch covered by sunglasses and who actually denied us extra ketchup the first time we asked.

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There was a tubby younger man selling balloons…

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who looked like he had taken one too many hits from the tank.

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Such is life at the fair.

The oddest, by far, was the man selling legs of ham in a lottery in a stand.

He chanted and sang like an stilted auctioneer to a crowd of people frenzying for a leg.

Buy a ticket for a few euros and scratch it off.

You could win a delicious leg of Jamón Serrano, one of the most delicious meats on the planet.

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Or the biggest baguette in Spain.

But then again, in a country where pig legs are given as yearly Christmas bonuses or gifts and have museums dedicated to selling them, Museos de Jamón, it’s really not that surprising to see one of these at an annual festival.

Collin left for home and I challenged Faye to ride the Bomber.

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The bomber was twice the height of any other ride at the festival, something like a ferris wheel except it only had one massive steel column turning around instead of the wheel.

The steel column had two 360º revolving carriages on each end. Each carriage held only four people, maxing out the ride at a total of eight people at once, and making the line about 45 minutes long.

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She said she hadn’t ridden a ride like this in ages and that if we were going to ride it, I had to promise to hold her hand and not let go.

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I promised.

Honestly, I needed a hand to hold, too.

While we survived the bomber, it had shaken up every ounce of beer in our bellies and we marched back into the old quarter to see what was shaking with the Peñas insanity.

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In one of the main squares, havens of people were drinking in a near-bacchanalian reverie.

We stepped over, around and on the remains of the debauchery in progress.

Spaniards, old and young alike, were singing and speaking loudly, smoking and dancing and drinking and acting as if the end was near and this was a decent showing for them to go out on.

Two guys pushed a girl in a grocery cart.

They saw me snapping photos of the bedlam and gladly posed for a photo.

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A moment later, the girl leaned over the side of the grocery cart and vomited unrestrainedly.

People moved away, some covering their mouths, others merely shaking their heads and resuming party  stances while I was trying my damnedest to get a shot of this girl in mid-puke. (This is TNB after all.)

But she laid back into the cart within seconds, head down and feeling as blurry as this picture.

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Faye and I went to a bar and danced to some punk-funk and new wave for several hours.

Amidst the smoke and the smiles, the moment and the future that didn’t exist within that night, we joined in the hedonism of the Peñas and the Pontevedra festival that was named after a sacred saint.

The saint who no one in the bar even thought about, much less knew who she was.

Unless of course, she was a saint who enjoyed partaking in the drink and debauch.

Around 5 am, we decided to leave.

On our way I had to get some cash for the cab.

I saw a bank and withdrew some money out of it.

It was called “Holy Spirit Bank”.

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Somehow, pulling colorful European money out of a bank named after one-third of the Holy Trinity completed the picture for me, connecting whatever dots were missing in the Pontevedran Peñas odyssey.

Kip recently ended his 3.3 week sojourn in Vigo, Spain where he wrote for hours on end, got blocked twice, drank delicious Albariño white wine, did some Thai-Chi, ate the most succulent squid he’s ever tasted (Pulpo a la Gallega) and visited many beautiful places in northwest Spain before he was ready to go back home to the maddening Madrid capital.

A man in the the early afternoon of his life (approximately 1:00 to 1:30 pm) hops a plane to the Northwestern corner of his host country, the one he sometimes calls home, and dials a number, speaks a popular foreign language, writes down an address, says thank you, until soon, ends the call, looks at the clock on this cellular phone, opens a map and directs himself toward a hotel.

On his back is a rucksask, which he calls a “blid” because the top part of it has what looks like a big lid that extends higher than his head. He also refers to people like him, the rucksackers, as blids because they walk around with big lids higher than their heads. Blids are walking/living advertisements for people who are overloaded, semi-bewildered and wayworn. They are “not from here” and today, he is one of them. Attached to his chest is a smaller backpack of the same brand (harnessed backwards) that holds his writing device, research for something he is writing, a copy of the first draft of that something that was written, his digital music player, a camera and various cables with which to connect them all to his writing device.

The temperature is 34 degrees, according to a woman he overheard complaining about the heat. He’s been in his host country so long that he doesn’t quite know what that is in his pre-programmed Fahrenheit gauge, but he knows that it is, in fact, hot. Damn hot, or insupportably hot – as the woman had said – the insupportably hottest damn day of the year. If he had to guess, he would say about 95 degrees and with the humidity factor, over 100. He walks around for a 10 minutes and wipes his forehead over 20 times with his palm, a bead of sweat readily forms at the bottom of his chin seconds after he wipes it away. His new black shirt holds a newer shade of darkness, a dampened black, where he is sweating without pause.

At the hotel, he disentangles himself from his blid burden, wipes his forehead with his palm and asks how much a room costs. Thirty-one euros, the cute girl behind the desk says smiling, plus tax. He pauses, looks around the two-star hotel lobby and weighs the possibility of exiting and looking for something cheaper of the same quality of slightly more expensive but of higher quality. Behind the girl behind the desk is a mirror and he sees himself in it, the sweat a relentless rain with which he uses his palms like intermittent wipers to keep it from falling into his eyes and impairing his vision.

I’ll take it, he says.

The room is spartan: there’s a bed big enough to entomb one person, a window, a small desk with a chair and very small TV dangling off the wall in the corner. He is exhausted. He takes off all his clothes and considers a shower but only after he’s lying in bed, at which time he closes his eyes and quickly drifts off to a siesta – or as most Brits call it (and make a point of this whenever they are around this particular foreigner), a kip.

The alarm on his cell phone brings him back to consciousness an hour and half later. He rubs his head and eyes and looks at the time on his cell phone. He is running late for his appointment to see a room in an apartment. He can shower in one minute or skip the shower and just towel down and deodorize heavily. Outside his hotel window, the evening twilight is blanketing and the heat is dropping. He stands up,
staggers for a second at the window, grabs his camera and snaps a photo.

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Its a rugged, post-industrial town. Most of the roofs need replacing from the heavy rain and are stained accordingly, he thinks, but if they replaced them, it might not have such an industrial appeal. And who wants to live in an ancient land that’s been refurbished, renovated and redone to look like a retro-ancient one?

Not I, he says and jumps in the shower for one full minute before drying, tossing his clothes on, putting the smaller rucksack on his back and whishing himself out the door and down into the street toward his appointment.

Rua León looked semi-close to his hotel on the map, but maps are always deceptive, even if you take into account the conversion factor in the legend. And this town is full of hills, putting you in a perpetual state of incline or decline. His destination is a definite incline, all the way up, he can see it, and while the small rucksack on his back weighs 1/10th of the colossal blid he had on earlier, this little one still packs a little punch and the incline looks never-ending.

20 minutes later he arrives at Rua León, 12. He looks around the area; adjacent to the flat is a walking area that looks like it was one a street for cars but was turned into a sizable thoroughfare for shopping and café loitering.

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Across the street from his flat are two bars and next to it is another; on the other side of the flat is a
gym and he thinks that these could come in handy if decides to take up karate, thai-chi…

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or drinking.

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Two people arrive and literally say “Hello” as if to impress them with their English. The local says his name and they shake hands. The foreigner asks him to repeat it and without hesitation the woman answers for him, Suso, as in Jesucristo – it’s a diminutive, she says, and then releases her name: Maria. Suso is a brittle man in his fifties with nearly translucent skin, blue eyes and shaved white hair. He speaks with
an  operatic intonation and subtle hesitation that almost makes it seem like he doesn’t speak the same tongue as the foreigner. Maria is a whiz at the language, is slightly overweight, in her late forties and has several severely discolored teeth, the rest of which appear only mildly discolored.

All three enter in the front door into the vestibule. There’s no elevator, Maria says, and its on the second floor. They make their way up and Suso stops in front of the door and points to the light above the door saying its automatic. He fumbles with the key in the lock and turns and looks up at the light. You see,
he says, you don’t have to touch anything, it automatically knows you are there, as if to reiterate the high-tech function of the front door light. The foreigner nods his head.

They walk in and immediately he is gripped by a stale odor. Here’s your room, Suso says motioning him into the room, and your desk which I put in here yesterday. In front of the desk is a small chair, suitable for a child in a playroom. This isn’t the right chair Maria, Suso says, get the other one, which she does and
hands him quickly. Suso pushes down the chair while engaging some lever underneath it and explains how customizable it is. He gets down on one knee and says, look here, this lever right here allows you to move it up and down with no problems. The foreigner nods his head again, thinking about the motion-sensor light
and this man’s preoccupation with these accessories that seem to make life so much easier—or more accurately, the flat so modern. Without them, he would most certainly be roughing it.The room
is even more spartan than the hotel. There’s a lazy chair in the corner with no cushion to sit on
and a wobbly closet door which disengages into his hands when he tries to move it.

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Oops, Suso says, this is nothing, I’ll fix this
tomorrow.

Maria stands at the threshold of the door, lights a cigarette and puts her hand outside the room, as if the smoke might bother the foreigner. He doesn’t see it at first but intuits it, feels that it
is there. Upon her next dragging of the cigarette and putting it outside the door, he looks and confirms it – she has a dark patch of hair under her armpit.
Contrary to many European stereotypes, he realizes that this is the first woman he’s seen in this country—besides lesbians and the occasional hardcore hippy—that doesn’t shave her armpits. He is unbothered by this because he should (hopefully) never have to see her in any capacity that will force him to think of this any further.

They show him the rest of the flat. It consists of a kitchen with the most basic of utensils,

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the washing machine out on the dust-filled terrace, the bathroom that has no curtain, not even bars with which to hang one if he would want to, a very small neglected living area

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and two other bedrooms, the last of which is David’s, who they tell him is the only one living here at the moment and is rarely at home. When he is, they say, he isn’t very social. That’s OK, the foreigner says, it won’t bother me.

So you’re a writer—huh?, Maria asks while covering the beds with a sheet.

He says yes well I’m working on someth—Maria cuts him off, I’m reading Neetzch, do you know
who he is? You mean the German philosopher?, the foreigner replies, I’ve read some of his stuff. Be careful, Maria warns, I’m reading the one he wrote just before he went crazy, at which point she looks to Suso and he guesses –you mean the one with that crazy name – Zarthstru? No, not that one, Maria shakes her head, the one about good and bad and there’s another book that comes published with it. I’ve read some of his stuff, the foreigner repeats. Maria tells him to be careful, that he shouldn’t go crazy trying to write something
like this Neetzch character. Well I’m not a philosopher, the foreigner adds, and Maria shakes her head again and says that all writers are philosophers and subject to same whims and weaknesses. I’ll be careful, the foreigner smiles, thinking about he never would have pegged Maria to be a Nietzsche fan.

They discuss the price, 200 euros, which includes all costs associated with the flat and room including WiFi. There is a lock on the door to his room and he asks where the key is. Suso says that he thinks there’s a key to it somewhere but if he can’t find it, it will be no problem to come over here one day and replace it.
You shouldn’t have anything to worry about here, he continues, David is barely here and this Belgian girl that’s coming will be studying Marine biology at the port, so they won’t be here very much. I know, the foreigner replies, there’s probably nothing to worry about but you never know what might happen and I want
to make sure that I have a writing device with which to write on, if not, that is to say, if it gets stolen, then
my entire purpose for being here will be for nothing. I’ll be by in a few days to replace the lock then, Suso says, finally accepting the condition with which the man will move in.

They shake hands and the foreigner heads back to his two-star hotel, wondering if the place is truly adequate for what he wants. It’s not exactly comfortable, there’s no shower curtain and no lock on the door and while I am here to write, he says aloud descending the hill into downtown, I am on vacation and damn
there are some very fine-looking women in this capital beach town and I can’t imagine writing for eight hours a day straight when I haven’t written for even thirty minutes in the past year with any consistency.

He asks himself the most fundamental of questions: what does a writer really need to write? Sure, creature comforts like small lamps, dictionaries and thesauruses, a nice lazy-boy with which to read and research in and get a quick kip in, those would be nice, he thinks. And maybe a stereo if s/he likes music to write with, a fan if its hot, some wall space with which to write words and notes on and maybe a bookshelf to hold books on for reference. These things are pleasant and probably required for many, but in essence, the only things a writer really needs is what this armpit-of-a-shared-flat has to offer: a chair to sit on and a desk to put the writing device on. All else is superfluous.

He considers the options: getting a cheaper hostel for another night or two, looking at more flats around the same price but hopefully of better quality, some that may not even have a desk in it. And this Suso character really did hook me up with that desk, he admits, it is the finest piece of furniture in the whole forgettable shack, not to mention customizable chair and motion-sensor light at the front door. Hell, It’s 200 euros—everything included—and no one gets hurt, he says, almost whistling down the wind.

The next day comes and he decides to take it. He mounts the blids on his back and chest and walks toward the main street looking for a taxi. The weather is considerably better today, probably about 21 degrees, but still begins to downpour sweat profusely with the heavy blid burden now in full bore.

He gets to the flat, meets Suso to whom he gives 200 euros and gets a set of keys and a quick handshake in return before disappearing. The foreigner immediately sweeps the entire flat and dusts everything, then takes all the possessions out of the blids and puts them in their proper place. Finally, he sets up his writing device, plugs it in and turns it on…

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and begins writing:

A man in the the early afternoon of his life (approximately 1:00 to 1:30 pm) hops a plane to the Northwestern corner of his host country, the one he sometimes calls home, and dials a number, speaks a popular foreign language, writes down an address, says thank you, until soon, ends the call, looks at the clock on this cellular phone, opens a map and directs himself toward a hotel.

First, a man takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Finally the drink takes the man.”–AA refrain

We order some tostas and a couple cañas (6 oz draft beers).

The tostas are topped with a tender cut of red meat, grape jelly and leafy greens.

Toast, flank, and purple preserves.

We’re nestled into the corner of this tiny, crowded bar, trying not to look like assholes.


Like most expats and/or struggling writers, you take pretty much whatever work comes your way.

I’ve done a lot of trickle down jobs that range from networking computers, translation, travel guide writing and DJing to the obligatory English teaching.

I sometimes call the last one “slingin’ ‘glish” (but never to my students).

Her first name was Kim.

The license plate on her car read RUSH 47.

Her last name can’t be recalled.

She listened to Rush way too much, so that part of the plate merited no query.

But the 47, that piqued my interest.

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So there I was, one testicle deep in the world of Spanish porn, unsure as to how I got there.

It began back in October of 2005 when I saw an article in El Mundo (a right-leaning major daily periodical) and a full-page ad in a reputable national music magazine for Follar Tour: La Gira del Infierno (Fuck Tour: The Tour from Hell).

According the website and ads, an entourage of real people—which ostensibly means people who aren’t porn stars—tour various cities throughout Spain and Portugal and engage in coitus on stage or within roped-off areas as the public looked on en masse.

Coitus?

I initially thought these events only happened in the American subculture that is hedonistic Southern Cali in private houses where seemingly normal people get together and grope, pull and penetrate strangers with invitations.

But no, this was not merely a swingers subculture or phenomenon.

It was something more insidious.

Tickets were 40 euros per chico, 25 euros per pareja (couple) and chicas got in free.

Eye-brow raising titles to events included:
“sex boxing”
“pool sex”
“uniformed exhibition”

As well as your standard hardcore completely-devoid-of-erotica in any way:
“gang bang”
“threesomes”
“facials”

In all, there were supposed to be 35 events along with DJs and live bands starting at noon and ending at midnight.

This was to be held in November 2005 at La Riviera, a covered dome where I’ve drank beer many times before and been wowed by such acts as Wilco, LCD Soundsystem, and Jane’s Addiction (and one time seriously disappointed by Jack Johnson) since I moved here.

I almost went to this, somewhat out of curiosity but more in hopes of selling the idea to any one of the trendy Maxim-style offshoots such as FHM, Stuff, and Loaded.

I even queried Penthouse and Hustler.

Hustler pays about $1,000/article.

That’s a lotta cabbage, let me tell you.

But a good friend was visiting me from the states that weekend and I didn’t think this was the kind of sightseeing she would’ve had in mind.

Several reports corroborated a lackluster outcome:

No one showed up until 5 pm.

Low ticket sales and a disproportionate number of men put the massive public orgy into slow-starter mode.

Music was intermittent–since initially there was really no one there to place music for–and later it was spotty, sometimes not having a DJ or band for up to two hours at a time.

And it ended early.

If the first follar tour was a failure, you couldn’t tell.

Several months later, Exposex billboards began popping up all over Madrid.

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Then, the next day, as I’m thinking about what all this odd exhibitionist sexual behaviour means, a strange email comes into my inbox.

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A Spanish porn actor, Whilly, was looking to get his website translated.

In exchange, he couldn’t pay me but he offered the possibility of witnessing one of his scenes being filmed.

I really didn’t want to see porn being filmed, but I thought there might be a story in it.

So in pursuit of amateur journalistic excellence and a few emails back and forth, we met for a drink in his flat.

He offered me a beer, which I accepted graciously.

He drank orange juice and wiped his palms on his jeans twice.

He checked his cell phone.

The apartment looked like it hadn’t been dusted or cleaned properly since he moved in, nor had he spent any time considering how to best utilize what little space there was.

In explaining this, he revealed that Barcelona was his hometown and he sometimes goes back to film scenes there.

He stays with his family.

They don’t know what he really does.

His phone rang, he answered it and politely said that he couldn’t speak right now because he was busy.

“I’m with a friend,” he said.

He hung up and explained something: he considers his life somewhat difficult because he usually answers his phone by his screen name, which is (errr—I highly recommend you don’t visit the following link if you are under 18 or offended by porn) Whilly Foc.

Of course, when friends or family call, he has to make sure to answer it coolly and reply to any questions about life as if life is normal at the bank.

He used to work at a bank.

He showed me his latest doctor-signed STD certificate–to prove that he was clean.

Sure enough, he was “clean”.

He then said that the previous offer of getting me into a shoot was off the table.

Getting a director to agree to allowing a journalist be present during the filming of a scene is extremely difficult.

So in exchange for translating his website, he would be able to get me into this upcoming ExpoSex conference.

“The world of porn”, he explained as he pulled out his phone again to check the time, “is very closed. This expo is the first of its kind in Madrid and I can get you interviews with actresses or actors, even directors.”

He wiped his palms and looked up at me and smiled.

“Hell, if you want, you can get up on stage and fuck a girl.”

I respectfully declined this offer but said that I was interested in the interviews—for the article.

For what felt like the 10th time in 20 minutes, he looked at his phone.

“I’m waiting for a call from a director,” he said.

“The thing about this business is that you have to be on call and ready to be somewhere within an hour.”

No wonder he quit working at the bank.

As I was about to leave, he opened up his dusty laptop and said, “Have you seen any of my scenes yet?”

“Ahh, no. I’ve seen the pictures on your website from your scenes though.”

Wrong answer.

I should’ve said Yes, I’m a huge fan.

Low and behold, he fires one up.

“It’s with this Romanian girl,” he explained, “who is morbid.”

Morbid (or morbosa in Spanish) means she’s nasty, that she’s really into it.

So there we were Whilly and I, in his apartment, watching one of his scenes with a morbid girl.

Foreplay was peaking and I couldn’t really do anything but watch the screen in silence, with him.

If I looked toward him, it would be awkward; if I looked away, it would somehow seem that I wasn’t interested in Whilly the “actor” as my lurid-Spanish-human-interest-piece-for-Stuff.

“Look at the way she does that. Isn’t that incredible?”

“Yep.” I answered.

The video, he revealed, took over an hour to shoot and the final scene was anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes long.

He wondered what they did with all the excess.

He skipped through much of it, showing me the highlights.

I nodded in agreement and offered the occasional “uh-huh”; he wiped his palms.

Whilly Foc looks like this in every photo I’ve seen of him.

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He dons a broad, schoolboyish smile on his wide face and a thumb is up.

Always way up.

Sometimes he points (with his index finger) directly at the person he’s next to and extends his thumb up without even trying.

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Either way, the thumb is up.

So I accepted the invitation to ExpoSex, an ultra-trashy sort of Oscars for the world of Spanish porn.

Its objective, according to the website, is “to normalize the sector at all levels, cinematographic, distribution, industrial, etc.” and to provide “an integral meeting point for people in the business, including the public.”

It was held in a now defunct bullfighting ring an hour outside of Madrid.

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Inside, there were four stages and a slew of stands with all types of standard pornography (thousands and thousands of DVDs and videos), sexual toys, penis enlargement kits and all other types of tangible spam related to this business.

A woman, dressed head to toe in a black leather suit, looked like a mannequin.
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Normally mannequins look like women.

A naked woman leaped and sprang on stage to a rock band behind her.

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There was no singer.

A strip tease act by a porn actress picked a manfan from the audience and put him in a chair…

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…while a pop song repeated the chorus melodramatically: “Nothing is better than your love.”

Finally, after being there for two hours, Whilly introduced me to an actress.

Her name was Alba Sanz.

After seven years of being in the business, she sees no reason to get out of it.

After such time, she is still getting nominations for “best actress”, like this year, and thinks that she has a good four or five years left in her.

The interview was conducted at a table situated directly in front of a large plasma TV where a film–her film–was being shown.

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It was the one for which she was nominated as best actress.

I found it difficult to maintain eye contact with this plasmatic distraction pulsating in the background.

I asked if I could have a photo of her trying to look sexy.

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I didn’t have the heart to ask for another one.

She looked wholly spent by years in front of cameras that had sucked every last drop of soul she had left in her.

She didn’t look demeaned or exploited but simply hollow.

A shadow of her original self from when she began in this business.

Sex was just her job.

I wondered when was the last time she had sex for the in-itself enjoyment of it or if she had ever had sex that allowed her to feel interconnected to someone.

Or when was the last time she had sex without a camera recording every action.

An elephantine sensation of pity covered me.

I felt a sudden urge to escape.

Almost three hours in a sex-filled porn-worshipping dome and seeing the general public all together  in this “integral meeting point”, I was exhausted.

On the way out, a fetish crew had wrapped a man in plastic like a piece of luggage in an airport.

They were deciding what to do with him.

The crowd seemed to take notice when the woman pulled out a clothespin and tried to attach it to his nipple.

Then a man started burning a candle behind them, grinning maniacally.

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(Of particular interest are the crowd in the back—now rather alert—and the perplexed expression of the bald man on the left and the short 60 year-old red-haired woman who hasn’t quite grasped the essence of what’s going on.)

I’ve never understood S&M and after witnessing this, I am sure I never will.

After the show, I came home and got a message from Whilly saying that he had won best actor.

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(I wonder if the trophy’s raised arm had its thumb up. And it seems very odd yet quite fitting that he looks like a human-sized thumb pointing skyward.)

He invited me over for another drink to discuss his future plans for the website.

I politely declined.

I’d had enough of erotic-less sex tours for one lifetime.

But Whilly was now widow-peak deep in that world.

And that this most certainly meant more scenes, trophies, tours, conferences, excess and undoubtably many, many more thumbs up…

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Good luck Whilly.

Andy Johnson introduced me to Dorothy last year.

Dorothy and I have recently become good friends.

She asked me if I wanted to try speed dating and I agreed.

After three hellish summers in Madrid, I decided to do something different.

I went back home.

Home is Phillipsburg; Ohio, a suburb of a suburb of Dayton, which is famous for the birthplace of aviation (the Wright brothers grew up here), the Dayton Peace Accords (Serb-Croat conflict) and Guided by Voices.