I watched out of the window as the plane descended. I saw green fields divided by pine forests that traced the paths of winding streams. There were patches of exposed rock and the odd red farmhouse. The sky was blue and clear.
I got off the plane and entered an airport where shiny blonde timber framed generous glass windows. There were ample views of the summer sky at every turn. Customs was easy. After a short wait, a stern lady asked my why I'd come to Norway, half listened to my answer, and stamped my documents. I proceeded out of the maze, through a set of doors, and into the transactional portion of Oslo airport. It was spacious and quiet in the early summer evening. I descended an escalator down two stories into a shiny, upper class appearing commerce center beneath a four stories high ceiling. There were polished restaurants with well stocked bars that looked like movie sets, surrounded buy small shops stocked with business attire and future fetish gadgetry.
I rode the escalator all the way down and went outside. There was a cafe with white plastic tables set up on the sidewalk. I set my belongings down and had a smoke. A taxi cab came to a stop nearby, a door was flung open, and a driver helped a couple of returning travelers to stow their luggage swiftly in the trunk. Then the cab sped away. I exhaled a big cloud of smoke, and out of habit surveyed the scene to be sure it was safe to relax. There were two grizzled old men mournfully smoking and drinking giant beers at their own white plastic tables near by. The bartender stood polishing a pint glass in his wooden shed with a trapdoor window, talking to someone on his cell phone. Nobody looked poised to bother me.
Soon I finished my cigarette and resolved to figure out the way to get to the city, and the Air B N' B rental where I'd be meeting Aubrey later on. She sent me a text saying she was on a train and would be arriving around ten thirty. I made my way back upstairs to the tourist assistance desk and inquired about the most affordable form of public transport to reach the address in Oslo where I was headed. The man behind the desk was formal without being discourteous, and suggested that after a long day of travel, the train would be easiest.
I made my way to the automated machines to purchase a ticket and then tried to discern which train to take. A digital sign flashed the options above a wide row of escalators that led to departure platforms down below. A young man who looked like a fellow traveler was milling about. I asked him if he knew the correct train for me to take. None of the routes listed on the sign matched the line that had the "Carl Berner Pl" stop which was printed on my ticket. He insisted on walking me down the escalator that led to the correct platform.
It was only a five minute walk, but his generosity and good will certainly defied the stereotype I'd been given by Americans of the Norweigans as an aloof people. It was no surprise to me to see this so quickly proven false. Stereotypes are lamplights for lazy people who are scared of the dark. Advice is hurled at us from the time we are small children, and if we continually tolerate it, until we lie imprisoned in the form of shrinking corpses trembling over plastic sheets. These deathbeds are automatic teller machines for the grim reaper. The living families see the stretchers draped in shrouds wheeled down the halls with the unique indignity that only a clinician can provide. Death in modern America is taboo. It is a hobgoblin we are taught to procrastinate on facing until it falls into the hands of the lab coat suited for making a proper introduction. This will be the second to last bureaucrat you'll ever meet, and he'll be sure to dull your senses if he's able. The final insult is that the institutions I'm describing are operated in the interests of health insurance companies, who seek primarily to empty the patient's pockets of any surplus before the inevitable time when it will be too late to do so.
There are saintly people in these places too. I've met a few, and for their generosity of spirit I am grateful. I don't know why I'm telling you this. Probably because nobody's willing to pay me not to. Everybody has a price, and mine is high. Maybe this means I'm not very clever. It's not as if it was a figure arrived upon by careful examination of supply and demand. There are plenty of dispossessed Jesus freaks, and nobody wants them. Mysteriously, due to a stroke of luck I cannot take credit for, nor presently explain, this one can afford to procrastinate on conforming to market imperatives. I chose exile, and that breeds it's own set of stereotypes. Look at him. Look at the fugitive who refused his gown, spit out his medication on the orderly's shoes, and leaped through a broken window into the star lit night. Now he is caught in the curious position of being an accidental ambassador for the society he's forsaken. The foreigners will see him for who he is, a traitor, traipsing blindly down the road to die alone.
Upon reaching the correct platform to find my train, my new friend explained I'd have to switch at a certain point, but once I'd done this successfully, my stop would be only a short walk to my accommodations. He told me his name was Kristian and shook my hand. He asked why I'd come to Norway and for how long I'd be here. I told him because my father told me stories about it when I was little, and maybe about a month. He wished me good luck and told me to please enjoy Norway.
I boarded my first train and sat by the window. It sped quietly away from the airport into the countryside. I caught the ground level view of the green fields, rocky outcroppings, and watershed tracing forest I'd seen recently from a seat in the sky. When I got to the station where I needed to change trains, a girl with purple hair and transparent skin told me which line I'd need next to reach the stop called Carl Berner's Place. She looked it up on the public transportation application she had on her phone. While she was doing this, her combat booted friend held back giggles and sneered at the floor. It reminded me of the feeling of being a school teacher for so many years. It was the scene where children encounter an exotic creature lost between two worlds, having left childhood behind, but failing to have been accepted by the adults. The girl with purple hair understood, and treated me as I did her, with kinship and respect.
Her friend's body language I interpreted as a show of dismissal, and condescension. I suspected she found me to pathetic, and motivated by delusion. Reflexively, I did the math on her, and concluded that those combat boots would soon be coming off in favor of footwear that was decidedly less ironic in its reference. Upon the expiration of her teenage years she'd take a job in a bank, or an entry level position at a public relations firm. Youth to her was a costume and a ritual. When the drink was downed, the glass would be cast away. She would not be the sort of person who remembers being born and moves through the world at a slight remove, having failed to forget the secrets of the dead. She believed what she saw, and had no hectoring voices to question whether or not to fall in step with society. And she was good at falling in, like the kind of circus bear that doesn't need dance lessons. I've always found that level of humility to be impressive. I never outwardly acknowledged her presence though. Even the most self aware of wild animals exhibit something that gets anthropomorphized into pride. I said thank you to her pale friend with purple hair and moved briskly onto the next train.
There was a business man on there who dressed like my father used to toward the end of his career. These were the clothes of the man who got his sartorial inspiration from old books. He was reading a newspaper, which he peered over the top of when I entered the train. I was dressed like a fugitive who'd recently taken shelter at the sympathetic home of old money intellectuals who practiced yoga. I was wearing high end railroad striped pajama bottoms, worn out leather work shoes, a button down shirt with only the top button buttoned cholo style, a hand designed t shirt with a revolutionary slogan that juxtaposed welcoming tongue in cheek nature imagery, and a blue camping backpack on my shoulders. I held a black, vinyl guitar case in my right hand. My hair was long and faded by the sun. My beard was feral.
I sat down across the aisle from the business man. He was still looking at me as I eased the cumbersome pack off my shoulders, and let it rest on the seat next to mine. I said hello to him. I could tell he was not pleased with himself for inviting a conversation. This train ride was no doubt his chance to enjoy silence and time away from the imperatives of interaction that dogged the rest of his day. Ideally, I would have been scenery to serve as a pleasant exercise in deductive reasoning. What was this creature who came into this train car wild eyed and out of place? Let's attempt to put the pieces together to practice making wagers. After I said hello, he froze for a moment, as if the shield of his newspaper had been recognized as counterfeit. He then folded it, placed it in his lap, exhaled, and looked into my eyes. I looked back.
He saw me to be a lost man of inherited wealth, in search of an experience unavailable in the dimmed light of the doomed empire from which he'd stumbled. Norway had picturesque fjords and comely women that someone unashamed to wear pajamas while traveling would read about in some flouncy men's magazine, and in an impulsive moment decide to avail himself of the spoils. Inevitably he would leave much lighter in the wallet and disillusioned by the emptiness of nature's spectacle witnessed alone, and the lack of aquiescence of sophisticated women to a man who looked and thought like a haunted child.
I made conversation with him about what it was like to live in Oslo these days. He indicated he traveled for work quite a bit and had been to most of the major cities in the US which, upon prompting from me, he listed. I asked him to compare the cost of living and state of infrastructure in Oslo to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. He offered that Oslo was quite expensive, but it was a well designed city for the gainfully employed for whom its swift corridors were implicitly designed. There was a note of apology in how he said it, as if my failure to acknowledge reality as a practical matter wasn't my fault. The quixotic philosophy that delivered me into his company operated in the subconscious under a flowery veil of helpless ignorance. It was not aggressive. It was not political. And so when the rope that tied the blade to the weight that fended off gravity was cut, he wished to have no scissors in his hands.
I nodded at his responses, and made some follow up questions. Soon it was time for me to switch trains. He wished me good luck. I thanked him for the conversation and disembarked from the train. On my next ride I remained standing and carefully watched the stops go by. Sometimes the train emerged from under ground and there were tree limbs with bright green leaves reaching over the brick walls under black electrical wires. We were in the city now. The sky was blue as early afternoon, though it was getting on towards seven o'clock in the evening.
I got off at Carl Berner's Place, and ascended the steps into the neighborhood where I'd be staying. There was a corner produce store and a Thai restaurant. I stood on the sidewalk and tried memorizing the blue line on the map of my phone from my present location to that of my destination. I was tired though, and hungry. The mind did not cooperate. I put the phone in my pocket and decided to let intuition take what data I could remember and fill in the gaps. Broadly speaking, the phone's way looked like an old dog's leg. I would forego the recommended twists and turns where the bones were broken and proceed straight until I hit a roundabout built for a train line. I imagined it was the kind with a statue at its center. There I would make a hard right and proceed until the building with my address appeared also on the right. I began walking and watching the brick walls of the buildings with all the rows of windows open in the warm summer evening, white curtains billowing in the breeze, hoping to catch sight of someone doing their dishes or practicing ballet dancing. The predominant voices and clothing of the people passing by came from the countries of Northern Africa. The street traffic was tall brightly painted trucks, motorcycles, german cars, and the blue commuter train who's tracks I was following.
The roundabout appeared. There was a planted garden at its center for the trains to drive through but no statues. I swerved right and soon the address of my air b n' b was visible. It was two tall apartment buildings with a narrow parking lot flanked by grass and tall trees. In the rear of the lot was a playground where children chased pigeons. My building was the one on the left. I buzzed the apartment of Fahima, who was the person who managed the Air B n' B for the couple who owned the flat. There was no answer so I called her on the phone. She answered and said she'd be right down.
Shortly thereafter she opened the door wearing a bandana on her head and a bemused expression on her face like I was about to say something funny. I liked her. She led me up two flights of stairs to the apartment, whereupon she unlocked the door and showed me in. There were four single beds in the bedroom covered in white linens and down comforters. The common area had a tasteful couch, coffee table and a television. The artwork on the walls was abstract photographs of nature. The kitchen was small, and very clean with modern appliances. Fahima asked if I needed anything. I did not. She smiled, wished me a pleasant stay, and vanished.
I looked in the refrigerator and was pleased to find two tall, silver cans of Norwegian beer. I opened one and went out onto the balcony. It was a narrow perch, high above the parking lot below, and the fringe of grass that bordered it. A man sat on the front steps at the entrance of the building opposite mine dressed in soccer clothes talking on a cell phone. The beer was very good. I lit a smoke and drank it. I texted Wiley and Sterling. They provided continuity from the home I'd drifted away from. They were like the stuffed penguin that lived in my suitcase. They were funny and instantly conversational. Sterling said to tell Aubrey hello. I drank the other beer, had another smoke, and watched the light change slightly more towards purple. Aubrey texted and said she'd be arriving soon. I told her I'd meet her at the cafe near our apartment.
I left the apartment and went to the Narvesen convenient store to buy smokes. The young man who worked there looked weary. I asked him if there was a grocery store nearby, and if they sold beer there. He said yes, there was a grocery and pointed out the window toward a yellow awning on the far side of the roundabout. Unfortunately he said, I could not buy beer. No beer is sold after eight pm because of Norweigian law. I raised my eyebrows and he nodded his head in a way that asserted he found the law to be regrettable. I asked him how his day was. He said it was good, but that heat didn't suit him. I thanked him, took my smokes and walked to the grocery store that had the yellow awning.
There I purchased some bread, arugala, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper so that Aubrey and I could have an affordable dinner. Then I went to the cafe to wait for her arrival.