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My English is terrible, but my American is pretty good

It’s about 2pm. I’m standing outside the Plaza del Sol station with a pair of new shoes and a $30 new bathing suit, waiting for Hidalgo. We’re running late, which gives us the excuse to attempt an action movie maneuver I’ve always wanted to try. Hidalgo pulls up alongside the entrance to the station on his moped, spare helmet already in his free left hand. He slows only a little, tosses me the helmet, as I chase alongside the moped. I inexpertly stuff my head into the helmet, then leap on the back of the vehicle.

It doesn’t exactly go as planned, but it still feels incredibly incredibly cool. As we rocket down the streets of Madrid, weaving through traffic, passing on the right, travelling at what I conservatively estimate to be thirty or forty thousand miles an hour, I reflect on the strange luck that brought me to this point.

I’ve always been lucky. I’m not superstitious and I don’t avoid the path of black cats or walking under a ladder. But my luck is real. I depend on it. I try not to examine it too closely for fear that it will one day disappear. The truth is, I’ve been blessed with a quick wit, a healthy body, and a charming smile. With that combination you can do almost anything in the world. I did nothing to deserve these gifts, but luck granted them to me, and I’m extremely grateful.

Similarly, my life has, for the most part, been a series of breaks that consistently seem to go my way. I’ve been fortunate enough to know some incredible people in life. I’ve met some incredibly beautiful women and even slept with a few of them. Good things just seem to happen to me without me having to think about it very much. This apparently has something to do with an old gypsy curse (O.K., technically not gypsy, and not a curse. It’s Native American, and it’s more of a blessing-curse-general prognostication, but everyone immediately knows what you mean when you say Gypsy Curse, so I usually use that for shorthand, and anyway, that’s a story for another blog posting).

For those who would scoff at the reality of luck, let me remind you that in all things, there is a probability curve, with most people inhabiting an area within one standard deviation of the center, receiving both mildly good and mildly bad breaks in life. But there will always be those of us on either end of the bell curve. Those of us who, no matter what we do, always seem to get fucked over or smiled upon. For some of us, the penny always comes up heads, for others, tails. It has nothing to do with God or fate, and everything to do with statistics.

Even Napoleon recognized this. When it came time to promote a member of his officer corps, he’d listen to the advice of his general’s regarding the individual in question. He’s an exceptional leader, the generals would say. He has an excellent command of logistics, they’d tell him. His tactical skills are unparalleled, they’d say.

And Napoleon would nod, and smile, and finally, he’d say “Yeah. But is he lucky?”

What does this have to do with anything?

It goes like this: when I try to plan things, they inevitably come out crap. On the other hand, jumping without a parachute, leaping without looking, and generally forging ahead blindly like an idiot, always seems to work out for me. My luck has always been there to catch me.

So when I decided, on a slow Thursday in June, to head off to Madrid for the rest of the summer, I didn’t do a lot of forward planning. I got a hotel room for three days, and trusted to the bell curve that I’d find excellent living quarters within 72 hours.

After 24 hours, I was beginning to have my doubts. After 48 hours, I was having serious doubts. And at 60 hours things were looking grim indeed. I saw plenty of places. Most of them pretty cheap, all of them either miles from the school in which I’d be taking classes, and usually with large Peruvian family. Nothing against large Peruvian families, but I feel a little awkward around children or, well, people in general, and I couldn’t really imagine being able to get any work or studying done in a cramped two bedroom apartment with a dozen rugrats running around.

I left Monday morning with a hopeful attitude to see a place quite close to the neighborhood I’d lived in last year. The neighborhood, close to the Novicado stop and just a few minutes north of Gran Via, was a quiet little hipster scene: lots of funky boutiques, comic book stores, bars, and homosexuals, just my kind of place. I found myself turning down familiar streets until I came to the Calle de Pez, literally around the corner from last year’s apartment. Quite excellent, I thought.
Jorge was there to greet me at the door. I was immediately terrified by the intense young man. To say he gives off a serial killer vibe is an understatement.

Jorge is, like most of the people I’ve met so far in Mardid, also Peruvian, he tells me without blinking. He’s one of three roommates, with me making a provisional fourth. He goes through his list of rules, which all seem to be variations on the theme of “Respect Jorge.” That, and no loud noises. Oh, except for sex noises. That’s fine. You can make all the fuck noises you want, he assures me conspiratorially. The roommates like to fuck.

Oh, goody.

But they’re not weird, Jorge tells me. There’s a lot of weird people in the neighborhood, he explains, if you know what Jorge means. Jorge means code for gay, and if he thinks this assurance puts me at ease, he’s completely mistaken. My room is a little closet, adjacent to a tiny living room full of exercise equipment and a small kitchen full of protein powder. Keeping the place clean is another major rule for Jorge, because the roommates like to bring girls back to the apartment.

I think there has to be a translation error, because I’m pretty sure when he says ‘girls’ he really means ‘victims’. Oh, also, I’ll need to pass an oral exam with another roommate, the guy who runs the place, who needs to check me out first. I’m not at all certain that this ‘other roommate’ exists anywhere outside of Jorge’s tortured mind.

“Can I talk to the ‘other roommate’ now?” I ask in soothing, therapeutic tones that I hope will bring out Jorge’s auxiliary personality. No, Jorge assures me with a frown, he’s at work right now. Oh, of course.

Work. Right, Jorge.

The idea of moving in with this guy and, potentially, his various personality constructs, is so obviously stupid that seriously consider it. As a writer, am I not contractually obligated to seek out the novel, the weird, the potentially psychotic? Jorge would give me enough material to fill three Me Talk Pretty One Day’s and two Running with Scissors’. Take that, Burroughs! Of course, that’s assuming I actually survived the summer.

I told Jorge I’d think about it and call him back with my answer. I leave in something of a despondent funk, trying to decide whether I’d rather live on the streets for the next month or win a posthumous National Book Award.

I could barely rouse myself that afternoon to check one more, final apartment. The place was insanely close to Plaza Mayor, and anything that central was guaranteed to be both crowded and loud, not to mention expensive. The listing is for 100 euros more than Jorge’s place.

But as I turn of Calle Mayor and onto the quiet little street, I marvel at how tranquil the little plaza is despite its proximity to the center in town. It’s even steps away from one of my favorite bars in the city. This can’t be right, I think to my self as I eat a few nectarines and wait for my contact, Hidalgo to show up. If this place is even halfway decent, and the roommates even halfway normal, I’m taking it.

After a few minutes, a young guy in a moped motors up with large glasses, a wide grin, and a head of disheveled hair, reminding me of what Daniel Radcliffe will probably look like when he grows up. I’m hoping the guy is representative of the neighborhood demographics, when he looks at me quizzically, extends his hand, and introduces himself.

“Vagabond? I’m Hidalgo.”

You know how you can kinda just tell if you’re going to get along right off the bat? It was like that. As he takes me up the lift to the fourth floor, he explains that he owns his own company, a carpooling service for businesses and universities. There is in fact, a newspaper with his picture on the cover when we walk in the door.

“Oh yeah, that was pretty cool. They were doing a piece on startups run by folks under thirty, and they decided to include a profile of us.”


Hidalgo is half-Spanish, half-French, raised in France and studied in England. He speaks three languages and is extremely friendly. The apartment has a large flat-screen TV, a guitar in the corner and art…really good art, all over the walls. I peek out the window of the living room to see an enormous cathedral.

“Is that Almudena?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah. We kinda have a great view. C’mon, your room is upstairs.”


We pass the kitchen on the way. We pass the marble-countertop, all new appliance, comes with a dishwasher, kitchen on the way. We pass two bathrooms. He shows me to a room larger than any I’ve lived in since leaving for college.

“So listen, I know it’s a little expensive…” Hidalgo begins. The rent approximately one-third what I pay in New York. “But the other roommates are hardly ever here, and you’ll have the place to yourself during the day if you need to work.”

I pretend that I’ll have to think it over, and tell him I’ll give him a call. But I’ve already written the check out and am planning to move in the next day.

Which is how, two weeks later, I come to be hanging on to the back of his moped for dear life as we head to his sister’s condo to use their pool. How he comes to introduce me to Raquel, who invites me out to see Celine and Julie Go Boating at a rooftop, outdoor cinema later that night, how I come to realize this is the movie that gave David Lynch the idea for Lost Highway, how I come to stumble back to the apartment at three am, gnawing on a cold chicken sandwich. After a couple of weeks in Madrid I’m already thinking to myself ‘huh, three am on a Saturday, guess I’m making an early night of it” when I run into Hidalgo again, who’s just leaving the apartment for the night.

“Hey,” he grins, another group of friends in tow. “We’re heading out, want to come with for a drink?”

I’ve always believed in Luck. She’s done pretty good for me so far.

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