I am not much of a luxury traveler. I’ve been subsisting almost exclusively on rye bread, butter, jam, salami and coffee for two weeks now, with the occasional box of cookies, bar of chocolate, or sausage dinner.
My Innsbruck digs were mostly like my ones in Vienna; cheap. The Innsbruck place was also a dorm of some sort but I wasn’t clear exactly for whom. There was one room on my floor that was a lounge for “Studentinnen” only, which means “girl students.”
Yesterday I got back from my Alpine odyssey beat to shit, and my right Achilles tendon was feeling like it had been immersed in a hot acid bath filled with nails. I had kept waiting for my new boots to get broken in but it seemed like my feet were going to break before the shoes.
I was two days in on the t-shirt so I stank like a vintage Euro, and I’d skipped a morning shower in order to hit the trail early. Back in my room I shucked off everything except my underwear and got ready to get into the shower.
That’s when I heard a knock at the door. “What the fuck?” I wondered. Nobody knew me there or even knew I was there. There was no peephole so I figured the worst it could be was the cops, and they’d probably seen lots worse than a skinny, smelly old man in his undershorts, so I opened the door.
A kid was standing there, about twelve. We looked at each for a second. I don’t know which of us was more surprised, but I do know which of us was scarred for life.
He began talking to me in Tirolean at blitz pace. The only word I caught was “New.”
“Just a minute,” I said. “Let me put my pants on.”
There are few things worse than climbing back into nasty jeans and a nasty t-shirt, but I did, and re-opened the door and stepped outside.
This time there were five kids and one of them had a soccer ball. The gang leader went at it again, and this time I mostly understood what he was saying, A pair of pants will do wonders for your foreign language cognition.
“Hello, sir. We saw you were a new resident and wanted to know if you wanted to come out and play?”
“We always like to welcome new residents in the home. Can you come out and play with us?”
My Achilles screamed “Hell, no.” But I didn’t.
“Well you see, I’m not really a resident. I’m just here for a couple of days.”
“Oh,” the boy said. Then he brightened. “Are you any good at soccer? You can be on our team.”
“I’d love to but I’m no good. At all.”
They looked relieved that I’d told them the truth. Their gambit to recruit a star soccer player having failed, they said thank you, wished me a happy trip, and hurried off.
It brought back memories of having always been picked last on every team I ever played on, and made me happy that this time, at least, they’d thought I was a ringer.
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