far too much writing, far too many photos

This morning, walking down la Calle de Hortaleza, I passed three males standing together at a point along the way that sees little pedestrian traffic at that hour on a Saturday a.m. Well into an early-morning (or all-night and then some) bender, one of them holding a nearly-empty liter-sized beer bottle, each with a cigarette in hand, discussing something probably not earth-shaking but important to them there in that moment, as is often the case with drinkers in the middle of a marathon. Arms waving around, focused intently, talking loudly, rapidly. Three guys I could swear I’ve seen in every single big city I’ve ever spent time in, or three guys fitting the description of certain universal types, the kind that get sent out by a central casting agency to fill slots in the ongoing beerified street theatre that seems to be a feature of urban life. Not that they’re on every block or street, but sooner or later I’ll pass them or their brethren in just about any population center of any size that I pass through in this strange, ongoing concern we call western civilization.

Not destitute individuals. Not the truly down and out souls who live on the street, carrying bags of belongings or pushing shopping carts packed with mysterious collections of stuff. Not the kind with skin and clothes that have taken the intense, sustained punishment of weeks or months in the urban outdoors — toughened, weathered, darkened from the ground-in accumulation of grime. The three guys I saw this morning were dressed in perfectly presentable jeans, casual shirts, sneakers or standard issue shoes, a bit rumpled from hours of carrying on as they were, a bit unkempt, but indicating lives with some sort of home base, some sort of money, shelter, basic self-care, all that. All slender, one slightly tall 20-something, one 30-something with longish frizzy brown hair, one straighter looking 40-ish type. The first and the third completely nondescript and inoffensive-looking, the kind who will blend into any crowd. The second was a more recognizable type, a kind whose look immediately identifies him as a character of this kind of scene.

And here’s the thing. I walk by, they’re energetically discussing/debating whatever, and I realize they sound exactly like the counterparts I’ve seen in other places. But exactly. They speak fast, in blurry streams of unintelligible sound that’s impossible to break down into understandable language, punctuated by certain exclamations or common swear words or obscenities used as adjectives or adverbs, window dressing to provide the appearance of the indigenous language. But apart from those few recognizable — purposely recognizable, I think — words, they weren’t speaking Spanish any more than their counterparts in the States or London or Paris or Rome speak English, French, Italian. They’re speaking some blurry cross-cultural, even supra-cultural lingo that none of the rest of us can understand. A sly, mutated Esperanto-ish thing that provides universal communication among their fraternity while remaining absolutely indecipherable for the rest of us.

I am not normally given to paranoid wonderings, but how can one avoid it with something like this?

I go down the street, drop a DVD in the rental shop after-hours return slot (this being Madrid, shops like that don’t open until noon so that everyone, staff and customers alike, can recover from late night activities), dump some recyclables in nearby recycling bins. I walk back along Hortaleza, the three aliens have vanished, not visible in any direction, along any visible street or sidewalk. Hmmm.

I continue along to one of my morning espresso spots, step inside behind two 30ish gay guys, both mid-height, wearing skin-tight short-sleeved jerseys, pulling wheeled suitcases. A stool presents itself at the counter, just a few feet inside the entranceway, I plant myself there. To my right sits a 40ish male, deeply into one of the daily sports newspapers, a small brandy-snifter style glass to one side, half full with either rosé wine or a drink that’s a combo of red wine and Casera, the local version of lightly flavored spritz-water. To my other side, sits a tall, lanky, slightly made-up gay 30-something, turned around on his stool in my direction watching the TV, long legs crossed, slightly hunched over, left elbow resting on the bar, left hand holding a cigarette. A cup of café y leche sits on the counter, now and then he sips from it.

Behind me, a table of young 20ish and 30ish Africans is making a huge amount of noise, one of them literally shouting. And as I order my espresso and churros, he continues yelling. Yelling is apparently how he converses. Not the kind of start to my day I had in mind. I finish up quickly, walk a couple of blocks to a different place, the cafeteria at the Plaza de Chueca down the street from here. Also noisy, but more diffuse. No yelling, just Spaniards just carrying on morning conversation. Much more user-friendly. Better for café and newspaper.

It’s now 12:30. Early-starting (^*%#!!!) neighborhood construction noise has tailed off and the day is getting underway, gradually, quietly (for the most part). In a short while, I’ll be heading out to lunch at my landlords, a trip that can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half each way, depending on trains/buses. They’re an entertaining bunch, I expect to be well diverted.

On to the day.

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