“I knew the gas was gone, but I had to rev the motor.”
- From the song “Maybe I’ll Come Down” by Mike Doughty and
I have been physically exhausted and mentally useless many times
over the course of my short life, especially on this particular odyssey, but
apart from various emotional traumas, I don’t believe I have ever been
as close to being completely destroyed as I am right now.
By the time I drag myself home for a three week break in late
December, I will have been on the road for six and a half months straight.
Eighteen countries. Almost 60 cities. I have cranked out untold reams of jabbering.
Walked hundreds of miles. Drank enough alcohol in various forms to fuel a
Homecoming weekend at the University of Minnesota.
I am toast. Pooped. Trashed. Zombiefied. Annihilated.
Friends, family, readers, from here on out, if any of you learns
that I am planning to do something of this scale for this length of time without
earmarking several, long, mandatory recuperative breaks, you all have my express
permission to dump a bucket of ice water on my head and beat me with a bag
of quarters until I come to my senses. Until this trip, the longest I had
ever been on the road was four months. That was when I was 24 years old. I
was much younger, more resilient, quick to recover and not committed to documenting
every move in lengthy detail. Even on that seeming carefree, low-impact travel
plan, I came home almost 20 pounds lighter, in a state that almost required
hospitalization. So when I hatched the idea for this zany voyage last spring,
why I thought I could keep up this frenetic pace for such a long period of
time is beyond me. Deranged desperation was definitely a factor. Then there’s
my irksome selective long term memory which has burned me so many times in
the past that you’d think that I’d be able to recognize the signs
by now. I also have to consider that I conducted much of the planning stages
of this project in various states of drunkenness and temporary insanity, with
a crazed desire to erase the prior nine years of my existence and start with
a fresh slate, figuratively at age 24. Ultimately, I can’t complain.
I got exactly what I had hoped for. I just didn’t factor in the bit
about me being human, not to mention being chronologically 33 years old. Many
will testify that I have often conducted myself in a manner that could be
construe as an unhinged contempt for reality. This is all fine and well on
a short term basis, but human beings have limits and at the moment of this
writing I am helplessly plummeting over the edge of mine.
The root of my current condition can be traced to my weakened
capacity to concentrate on the simplest of tasks. I am used to having superior
levels of focus and awareness, being able to process everything from all five
senses at a blistering speed. I have enjoyed this heightened level of responsiveness
as a direct result of having been a juggling prodigy through the better part
of my formative years. Having honed my brain’s processing speed, reflexes,
hand-eye coordination, dexterity and concentration during this key part of
my mental and physical development, I was fortunate to have the benefits of
heightened levels of performance become a regular, innate part of my existence.
Look at any person who has enjoyed exceptional development in any discipline
during his/her childhood and this person will inevitably have a natural talent
and a general accelerated learning speed for anything requiring similar physical
or mental skills for the rest of their lives. Quite simply, metaphorically
I used to be Batman, but now I’m Sponge Bob.
My former above average mental and physical abilities are gone.
Worse than gone. In fact, I suspect that I’m in the hole as far as mental
faculties go. I’m easily confused, disoriented and overwhelmed. The
feeling of sensory overload dogs me throughout the day. My focus and concentration
have dwindled to such a feeble low that I can barely compose a sentence and
type it at the same time without profuse typos and then forgetting what I
had intended to write while coping with said typos. I can’t take notes
fast enough. I’m certain that several weeks of brain-dead lethargy could
straighten me out, but my fear is that I have gone far enough into the abyss
that I have caused permanent damage, as one might see in recovering hard drug
users. Even in the past two weeks, moving at half speed and breaking my workload
down to a pathetically tranquil level, I am still unable to keep up.
My exasperating condition has been magnified here in the streets
of Naples. Naples is probably the most densely populated and anarchic city
in Europe and if you didn’t read that fact in your guidebook before
you arrived, you would have learned it quickly enough during your first 15
minutes on the streets. A maddening amount of cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters,
people, animals, various inert obstacles and piles of biological waste from
all of the above share outrageously narrow, haphazard, cobblestone streets.
In Naples nearly every step requires you to dodge certain injury by a motor
vehicle or maneuver around elderly people, children or dog shit. When you
compound these challenges with the fact that you are navigating unfamiliar
streets and simultaneously suffering from a dangerously low blood-oxygen level
from all the pollution, you’ll have a sense of the typical street scene
in Naples as seen by a tourist. You have two choices as to how to handle this
environment. You can function at a heightened capacity and flourish or have
a nervous breakdown and cower in the corner of an alley. Even with the latter
option you still have to be moderately vigilant of people, scooters and various
Crazy, uncanny things happen in the streets of Naples that would
confound people from anywhere else, but would likely draw an indifferent shrug
and a dismissive solicitation of a cigarette from a local. The day I arrived,
a fellow hostel resident walked in and reported that he had nearly been killed
by a bag of chocolate chip cookies that fell out of the sky and missed caving
in his skull by three inches.
A bag of chocolate chip cookies.
Fell from the sky.
Almost seriously injured him. The hostel clerk’s response
was “Can I have one?”
Do you see why I am freaking out? Bizarre things like this would
discombobulate me even in top form! Then, because I am a clueless, glutton
for mind f*cks, I joined the hostel in the living room the same night for
a viewing of the movie “The Ring.” If you’ve seen this movie,
you know how it can righteously mess with your head. The movie finished a
little after midnight and I laid awake in bed for over two hours trying to
eradicate the onslaught of terrifying images from my mind. This was impossible
however due to my aforementioned weakened concentration skills and the numerous,
ongoing, unsettling sounds that were resounding through the hostel building
at the time. I finally found slumber after a maximum dosage of a sleeping
Even after numerous consecutive nights of eight hours of sleep
or longer, I still feel as if I am suffering from a slow-motion brain failure.
Thinking is strained. Motor skills are shaky. Writing is… Well, you
can’t tell because I intend to edit this with all the cognitive capacity
that I can muster before letting anyone read it, but just picture, if you
will, me poised over the keyboard, slowly and painfully tapping out one word
at a time, making typos in every second word, stopping for several minutes
to desperately search my brain for every-day words like “desperately.”
This is as forced and arduous as writing has ever been for me, nevermind simpler,
daily tasks like safely crossing a street or getting the wits together to
take a shower.
If I ever fully recover, the obvious lesson that I intend to
take away from this monumental blunder is; Don’t bite off more than
you can chew, you idiot. Despite what your parents, bosses or coaches might
have told you, it most certainly does not build character. On the
contrary, it eats it raw.