Twenty or thirty hulking, dirty, disheveled and very fragrant Albanians were jamming discus-sized burgers in their yaps and jabbering at each other on a sweltering September night. A full moon was rising above the roadside food stand in the mountains, twenty or thirty clicks from the Kosovo/Montenegro border. I was headed to Podgorica to meet Marina Marina Marina!, the editorial assistant at the Montenegro Times. Over the previous six weeks Marina and I had emailed, chatted and Skyped incessantly and fallen in love in the process. Truly, madly, deeply in love.
Those who claim that it is not possible to fall in love over the Internet don’t know what they are talking about and they certainly don’t know Marina. Leo Buscaglia once said that if you got within ten feet of him chances were that he was going to hug you. Marina is the same way. The girl is no more capable of harbouring hate in her heart than a Teletubby is. Marina could not even bring herself to hate the man we had both worked for, one of the most thoroughly deplorable human beings I had ever encountered, a man possessed of the most fascinating array of mental disorders ever contained inside one mind, outside of an insane asylum, a man who… well…no… let’s not dwell on that creature right now, for he will slither in and out of the beginning part of this tale and may even make an appearance at the aft part, for all I know (and I have little doubt that he will materialize with a writ of label when this goes public) – for the moment, suffice it to say that he was a lawyer and the fact that Marina could not hate a lawyer, that she could, in fact, merely feel sorry for this most loathsome and pathetic of litigating miscreants told me that she was, is and, if I can do anything about it, forever shall be, pure love.
I had about 300 euros in my pocket, enough to last me a couple weeks in the Montenegrin capital. How the Hell I was going to avoid living under a bridge and scouring through garbage cans for food with the gypsies was a question that troubled me greatly but it was, perhaps, a moot point because I might not live long enough to figure that one out. I was 45, Marina was 19 and this was, after all, the Balkans, where every father has a gun or two and they don’t take kindly to middle-aged foreigners lusting after their nubile teenage daughters.
‘What the Hell are you doing, Salmi?’ I asked myself.
The night before, an expat American friend, who’d been living in the Balkans for the previous 15 years, had asked the same question and urged me to think long and hard about chasing after a teenaged Balkan girl and his words echoed in my head as I nursed an ice cold Peja and watched the Albanians watching me. “They don’t even tolerate rich foreigners chasing after their daughters here, Brian and you ain’t rich,” Polansky said, shaking his head, when I told him that the lunatic Latin publisher had fired my ass and I was going to Montenegro to be with Marina.
“Yeah, well, what the fuck do I have to lose?” I replied, slamming a shot of rakija. “Freedom’s just another word for…”
“… nothing left to lose,” Polansky finished the lyric, with a laugh. “You’re a fool, Brian but I’d do the same, I suppose.”
“Fuckin’ eh, you would, brother. Fuckin’ eh, you would.”
The driver opened the door, climbed aboard and honked the horn. The Albanians gobbled up the rest of their burgers, knocked back the rest of their beers and got on the bus. I took a long look at the moon, shrugged my shoulders and smiled. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that no matter how bad things get, no matter how depraved or desperate things get, a writer will always get a good story out of it… if, of course, he lives to write that story.
I desperately needed a love story – preferably one with a happy ending, for a change – and if you’re not willing to risk your life for that, you’re dead already, anyway, so I bought four more Pejas and followed the Albanian
Journalism today is overrun with: pathological liars, political cowards, intellectual perverts, shameless charlatans and unrepentant lickspittles who, no matter what they do, will never, ever get the respect and love they crave from their alleged fathers and who spend long, lonely nights masturbating into the underwear of their alcoholic mothers; estheticians and flower shop girls lacking the common sense to engage their gag reflexes in order to avoid swallowing all the poisonous bullshit they are fed three or more times a day; former frat boys completely devoid of the ability to think laterally and critically but endowed with a keen understanding of the joys and simplicity of press release reportage; dumb-as-jocks j-school grads putting in time until they can ascend the food chain by signing on with a morally bankrupt PR firm or hitting the big time by landing a gig as a writer for a reality TV series. After years of looking down on such creatures, with far more contempt than pity, and pondering what exact set of complex and twisted circumstances must be unwinding in a person’s life for them to fall to their knees and commit the crimes against journalism and their own personal dignity that are so apparent in the media every day, I came to the Balkans and started to become one of them.
I had no idea that computer keyboards came equipped with kneepads until I arrived in the Balkans in March, 2008 to edit two start-up English language weeklies. Whenever I sat at my computer and began to write another one of my sublime word-hummers, under direct orders from the ridiculously sycophantic publisher, the only thing that stopped me from cringing in shame and quitting in disgust was the fact that I would never have to attach my name to the embarrassing bit of wordcraft. So long as that remained the case, I’d write damned near anything the asshole wanted. What the fuck did I care?
I’ll be a dirty wordwhore when the price is right and when you’re a broke-ass bitch as often as I am, the price is almost always right – you can have it anyway you want it, honey, just leave the money on the nightstand on your way out. But I’d never degraded myself so often, for so little money, as I did during the six months (of Bloody Sundays) that I attempted to create a couple little publications worthy of being referred to as newspapers.
Had I known that I was going to have to give whipped cream word-hummers to every government minister, ambassador and CEO in two countries, I would have insisted that my contract include a case of toothbrushes and a river of mouthwash. But I’d have signed on anyway, simply for the promise of nothing more than the chance to get out of Canaduh, where I’d struck out from one end of the country to the other for the past decade.
Oh, Canaduh, my home and native land… the true north strong and freak. That’s a variation on a few lines from Canada’s national anthem, which actually read, “the true north strong and free.” As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close the reality of the matter is that Canaduh is far less free than most Canadians want to believe but that’s a long story that shall only be touched upon, here and there, throughout the course of this manuscript. Alas, the true north strong and freak it is not and never has been. Canadians are not comfortable with weirdness and weirdoes – even big brained, creative weirdoes – are generally shunned like AIDS infected lepers and scab-covered, piss-smelling junkies. Believe me, I know of what I speak.…
Investigative reportage it was not, but it was close enough for rock n roll. On most nights I made a point of staying out of the 98 until close to midnight. Let the malcontents get well into their cups and see if they were either willing to go on the record with something worthwhile of fork over an envelope full of damming evidence. Fat chance, but what the fuck else was I gonna do?
I had no use for any of them. Other than a local UN groupie, who obviously suffered from nasal drip and had already done all the things I had too, I didn’t even want to fuck the good looking girls amongst them. They were all so fuckin’ middle class. So fuckin’ obviously hypocritical and wrongly righteous, with their UN bullshit. The Kosovars hated them and I quickly came to understand why.
By the time the staff were hustling the internationals out the door, they were all well pissed. They had to get back to their desks in the morning… but I didn’t. So I’d jump in a cab and direct the driver to the all nighter a few doors down from my apartment.
There was nothing rock n roll or glamorous about the place. The music was subdued and, frankly, it sucked. Some kind of tortured Balkan folk garbage. There were rarely, if ever?, any girls in the place. It was 500 sq feet of hookas and card tables.
After a while, the regulars became friends. They trusted me. I bought rounds.
And after a while they started to break out the shitty blow. Shittiest blow I’d done since the Yukon. Just enough to keep you awake and playing poker, for money no one could afford to lose, but not good enough to get you high. Dentists as cocaine dealers, I suppose. In such a lawless land, I’d hoped for better but I guess it was just as well. I’d been there before and was lucky to get out alive.
At 4 am the mosque next door would start wailing, calling the faithful to prayer. Some of the guys would laugh at the beckoning. Others would wince, each syllable an accusation. Some would wave their arms and demand an end to the bellowing so we could all concentrate on the game at hand. Once in a rare while, one of them would empty his cup, get up and answer the call.