Thursday, November 09, 2006

Summer 1974

I remember my father watching the Watergate hearings. It must have been before they bought the little SONY portable TV because he watched up in my room which was the attic of the house where the old TV worked best. The TV sat on the floor and some old couch cushions were also on the floor. I can see my father sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, his legs stretched out at the end of his day in some Manhattan office, watching hungrily what to me appeared deadly dull.

It was the summer of my 17th year and I was headed to Europe. I had just graduated high school, an event that meant almost nothing except relief that I wouldn't have to ever go back there.

My father, a Hungarian, had signed me up for a program that summer aimed at the offspring of Hungarians who were growing up in other countries. The program promised to teach us the language and inculcate us with Hungarian culture and return us home with a heightened awareness of our ethnic background.

Whatever. I liked the idea of going to Europe alone. I had a real backpack now thanks to my almost useless high school boyfriend Ted who had taken me hiking and camping and taught me what equipment to get. So now I had a real backpack, the essential accessory for any traveler. I looked forward to being away from everyone who knew me and to being able to present myself as a woman on the road.

I had read about the Icelandic Air flights to Luxembourg, the hippy flight where you could smoke grass in the back seats. I didn't tell my father that part, but it was the cheapest flight available so this wish was granted.

From Luxembourg the plan was to get a Eurail Pass, go to England to visit two or three friends, then backtrack to Hungary for my program. On one of my day trips into Manhattan with Cyndi, who was not a girl I deeply loved, but a girl who wanted my friendship and was the only person I knew equally interested in solo day trips to Manhattan, I got an International Students card which I had read was also another essential part of hippy European travel.

I envisioned a rolicking trip complete with lots of drugs and friends made on the road. There weren't really any friends at home here after three years of high school and there hadn't, consequently, been many drugs either. Certainly not enough, and it wasn't the first time that I had thought a trip might cure all that.

It hadn't worked very well the year before when I had managed to hitchhike by myself across the country without my parents finding out. I had returned still friendless with some marijuana seeds that someone had given me, which I tresured as if they were currency, and I placed them between damp paper towels the way the book said, not sure what exactly I'd do with real plants. I kept the seeds up in my attic room until they went moldy, but it had felt so good having them up there, as if I were a member of something.

No hippy made friends with me on the flight. In Luxembourg a man yelled at me for leaning my pack up against his car. It was the first time I'd met anyone who didn't want things touching their car.

I rode the train west to Belgium and sat in the lounge of the overnight ferry to England. Three men were there together. I sat off to the side, hoping they would notice me. One had a pony tail. They brought me into their conversation. I answered their questions as I always did in situations like this -- truthfully but also guardedly, always protecting myself. Let no one think I needed anything. My enjoyment of sitting in this bar with these men was in direct proportion to how much I could hold their attention. Usually, things like this petered out quickly. A few wisecracks and it was over. But somehow me and these three men kept going.

Before we landed they asked if I would carry their cocaine through customs. This was the kind of life I'd been looking for. Of course, I said yes. What? Say no? Ruin my repuation? No way. I was a fearless, careless girl, like any decent heroine. Looking back, I'd say it was a pound or two of white powder wrapped in clear plastic that I slipped into my underwear in the ladies room.

Through customs, they offered to give me ride to London. They were getting a taxi, a bulky black English taxi. It was a two or three hour ride. I sat in the back seat, kissing the one with the pony tail. "Come with us to the hotel," they all urged, but I had a train to catch. My friends were expecting me. "No," I said. "Let me out at Waterloo Station," and they did.

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