PART TWO ... NOT ENOUGH TIME
Part one, yesterday.
All this cynicism … and yet … damned if it didn’t affect me when I began to think about Michael Hutchence dying, because in the end, he WAS different for me than all the rest of the fallen celebrities. For one, Hutchence was 37 when he died. He was born in 1960, just a few months before I was born.
In short, the same age as me. Before Hutchence, the dead celebrities always were older than me, and now they’re often younger, but he was my age.
But I wasn’t suicidal – people my age have so much to live for, don’t they? Or, had it escaped me that 25-year-old men do indeed kill themselves … and even if they don’t, I was no longer 25?
No, not 25 at all.
Furthermore, it slowly dawned on me that although we never came close to meeting, the Aussie and the Hick, our paths somehow managed to cross in a place far away from both our homes, and in a way that left an indelible impression on me, first on an old bridge spanning a famous river, then by the gray and nondescript wall of an ancient cemetery, and finally in a colorfully festooned square, all within the boundaries of a pristine, crumbling, captive city known as Prague, Czechoslovakia, circa 1989.
Actually, we may have missed each other in the city by as much as a year, but is doesn’t matter, because Hutchence left me with musical and visual calling cards that persist in the memory, and now that he’s dead, I’ve been denied the possibility of tracking him down ten years from now in the alley behind Jim Porter’s, where he just appeared with INXS during their 30th anniversary tour of the only small venues that would still book them, and interrupting his quick getaway to thank him for providing me with an integral memory of a vanished place, and by extension of someone – me – whose past unfortunately is about as dead as the prospects for a revival of the May Day celebration in Prague’s Strahov stadium, where the memory of U2’s 1997 Pop Mart appearance takes precedence over the legacy of the droning speeches of bumbling old men like Gustav Husak.
In retrospect, it didn’t require the far-off death of some chronological classmate I never had to plunge me into a state of morose self-examination, although his messy end provided an appropriate exclamation mark to a sentence previously written and barely understood.
At some point in mid-November, with rehearsals for the INXS “Lose Your Head” tour underway in Australia to hopeful reviews, I began rummaging through a pile of papers on my desk. At the bottom, lonely and hidden, yet oddly expectant, was my first passport.
The passport was issued in 1984, a full year before I embarked on my first trip abroad, and it expired in 1994, just prior to my sixth journey to Europe. Since this first passport was renewed, and my government has seen fit to award me with a new document to ease my entry into countries that agree to harbor an American for a specified period, there have been six more European excursions.
It has taken this many trips to remove some of the surface sheen of the little blue booklet, so that it begins to show the desired wear and tear intended to set its experienced bearer apart from the newbie travelers.
It’s a matter of prestige, baby.
After flinging away the file folders, business cards and meaningless scraps of paper to await filing on a different corner of the desk, the old passport was free to resurrect distant memories by means of faded rubber stamps that had been thoughtlessly inflicted on the once virgin pages by supremely bored border guards, who since have been made redundant by geopolitical decisions that whisked them from grim, cold comfortably bureaucratic postings on fortified Warsaw Pact borders and dropped them, headfirst, into telemarketing positions in cubicles wedged precariously between a rock and a hard place.
Unfortunately, before any of these thoughts were able to take shape, I opened the passport and looked at the photo laminated inside the front cover.
I was shocked. It wasn’t me. Couldn’t have been me. To be share, a pair of brown eyes stared back at me, gravely, with solemnity, perhaps even arrogantly.
They looked to be attached to someone who was very full of himself, and at the painfully inexperienced age of 23. The eyes were deliberately ignoring the photographer’s pleas to smile for the camera, and something within me stirred in remembrance: Smile? Hell, it’s a passport picture, not a family reunion snapshot; do you want the Europeans to look at me like I’m some kind of bleeding idiot?
Mr. Chase, the photographer, was momentarily taken aback.
The brown hair was short and unkempt, and the visible cowlicks had defied the best efforts of the comb, if indeed such efforts had even been made. Incongruously, the scowling face sported an absurdly silly wisp of a mustache that would have benefited from a sturdy coat of Groucho Marx’s vaudeville greasepaint.
This was no one I knew – or was it?
In 1989, during my third Europhile’s pilgrimage, I was in Prague. It was my second visit to the Czech capital, which to all appearances at the time was irrevocably Communist, and to have suggested to anyone that a largely bloodless revolution would occur by the end of the year as part of the monolithic Soviet Bloc dominoes crashing to earth all along the non-Cuban international landscape would have marked the speaker as an enemy of the state – both in Czechoslovakia, and also in America, where the military/industrial complex hummed merrily along at the behest of the Cold War mentality that I so desperately sought to disprove by visiting places like Prague.
I’d been there before, but only briefly. My friend Barrie and I had spent three days in Prague in 1987, fresh from the Soviet Union and Poland, and these hours were a whirlwind of beer consumption and subsequent forced marches to our assigned youth hostel barracks in an unfinished sports club seemingly halfway to Plzen, leaving us little time to learn anything of substance.
However, it was a valid introduction to a city where vast tracts of the urban landscape still had the appearance of the 18th and 19th centuries, where small, winding streets led to dank basement pubs populated by working men conducting conversations in low voices, their remarks spices by clinking half-liter mugs of traditional draft pilsners, and where a storefront on Wenceslas Square that would have been occupied by a trendy designer shop anywhere else in the world – and is today – was filled instead by the Automat Koruna, a stand-up eatery, dirty and dirt cheap, where half-liter mugs of local beer went four to a dollar, unless the money had been changed on the black market, which was dutifully manned by virtually every waiter in the city.
Then you got six, maybe seven.
Part three, tomorrow