Youth Will Not Be Wasted On You
The town of Zaragoza means a lot of things to many different people. To me, it conjures a traveling incident where I was so severely poisoned by alcohol that I nearly died.
At least I felt like I was going to die.
Perhaps being trapped in a hotel room and throwing up for three days straight wasn't quite that bad. There may have been some food poisoning involved as well. The night before it all started, I had been busking it the town square when two women -who were a couple-took a liking to me and decided they were going to show me a fun night on the town.
Somewhere along the way we ended up at the lesbian bar, of course, and that is where I proceeded to drink various mixtures of this and that. Perhaps the drinks had cool local names like "Amor Azul" or "La Chingada Dulce." Perhaps it was just bottom shelf whiskey. Perhaps some of the tapas they served me that night were full of the wrong kind of bacteria. None of it matters anymore. What matters is that for the three days afterwards, I was unable to hold down a glass of water or do anything but lay still in bed and watch the Eurovision song contest, which happened to be on the television for the duration of my poisoning.
It was springtime in Spain and also my first visit to that fine country. I had taken the bus from London to Barcelona, then hitch hiked to Madrid. I was in the process of hitching back to Barcelona when my first ride dropped me off on the outskirts of Zaragoza. I had my black Gibson J-45 and a lot of Sonny Terry and Brownie Maghee songs to sing. I was completely free and wandered wherever I wished.
Writing this now brings on the emotional recall of misspent or well spent youth. I simply believe something that is sadly true- youth is wasted on the young. I'll volunteer that I did not waste mine as much as the average young American, but I will also admit that I was beyond wasted that night in Zaragoza.
There were hash joints, and more drinks, shots of this and sips of that. I howled out songs about how my "no-good woman did me wrong," etc, and me and the two girls had a blast. Just before the sun came up, the women and a large batch of friends that had grown around the bar, saw to it that I got to my hotel room safely. One of them carried my guitar and another balanced me up and helped me get in the door.
I was shattered.
Luckily I made it through the initial stage without asphyxiating on my own vomit, but when I finally came to there was hell to pay. My head was throbbing double and I needed water bad. I made it over to the sink, splashed water on my face, tried to drink some, threw it back up, and just filled the sink with what remained in my guts.
At one point near the end of the three days of this repetitious cycle, I remember the hotel manager coming up to ask me if I was going to pay my bill. It's no fun arguing in Spanish when you are sick as a dog, but I think I got my point across when I reached my hand through the slight opening in the door and held out a wad of bills. It was all the money I had left. As soon as I felt better, I was going to have to hit the streets and busk for change to get some juice, and perhaps a banana.
The moment did arrive when I was strong enough to walk more than a few feet and hold down a sip of water. The first thing I did after taking a shower was to walk down to the Zocalo. I don't remember having any major objective other than to just get my legs back on. All roads lead to the main square and soon enough I found myself standing in front of the cathedral, looking up at the facade.
There were beggars gathered near the entrance way. Many of them were squatting there-some missing limbs. One in particular had a very guttural sound coming out of his throat as he held his hand out for scraps and loose change. I sat down next to him and imagined what it was like to have to do what he did every day in order to survive. I began to pray at that moment but I did not know who or what I was praying to. I thanked God and Goddess for everything I had. I was grateful to be alive and happy that I had only to pick up my guitar and begin again. My appetite had returned. I realized that I had it made and that everything was going to be just fine. At the very moment this thought dawned on my foggy brain, a bird shit all over me from his perch up high on the cathedral.
The beggars just laughed, as did I, eventually. I had bird scat on my hair and shoulders. I stood up and made my way toward the hotel in order to clean myself up. I couldn't believe what had just happened and began to feel a mixture of slight despondency mixed in with strange joy. As I walked across the square, a mother carrying a small child approached from the opposite direction. At the very moment they passed by, the child reached out and slapped me right in the face, hard. The mother was shocked. She began to apologize profusely and berate her daughter, who had a huge grin on her face. I stopped her from apologizing and explained that everything was absolutely all right.
"La vida es muy especial," I said. "Muchisimas gracias!"
I was twenty-three years old.