Drink, Grovel, Fuck: Vienna/Prague
Why did I go to Vienna for only two days? It wasn’t enough time to get to know it to any meaningful degree, not enough time to chase the increasingly fleeting dream of rejuvenation. The city itself was okay, I guess, similar homogeneous mansard architecture as elsewhere on the continent, but managing to look stately rather than rote, unlike Paris.
Vienna felt like it was built out of money: aloof, white, tasteful, safe.
Little penetrated elsewise. But I did feel the avenue draft of European winter for the first time, blowing away any lingering sense of adventure or purpose. I became a speck swept about at random, not affecting or being affected by my environment. Vienna but streets and stone, the Danube but water and motion. I had only gone to Austria to tick another destination off a Europe list, the way tourists go to every museum in a city so they can rattle off the things they did without actually doing anything. I wasn’t doing anything in Vienna and I wasn’t doing anything on the larger trip other than alienate people and stoke chemical dependencies. I could have done that at home.
This dreadful emptiness persisted into Prague, where it metastasized into a crushing wave of depression. I was nearing the last leg of my “Drink, Grovel, Fuck” world tour and any hoped-for epiphany or transformation of spirit looked more and more likely to reside around a corner not taken, on the other side of a bad decision, in a conversation not started. Or maybe that transformation was not part of any possible world in the first place, like a crippled kid dreaming of becoming an astronaut. I took to cannabis absinthe — the extract of tourist trap — and walked in loops around Old Town, every street flooded with booze and sightseers, stumbling over loose cobblestones, until my legs gave out.
Drunk in my apartment on the second night, I made a half-hearted Google search to find activities of experiential interest in Prague, and discovered that prostitution was legal and a significant element of the Czech Republic’s booming tourist economy. Fast-forward 30 minutes and I had sent out a half-dozen emails to women on an independent escort listing.
I had already tainted myself in Paris during a brownout, why not descend all the way, hug the toilet of vice?
I awoke in the morning, remembered what I’d done, and lay in bed for an hour to avoid checking my email yield; I daymared about the prospectlessness of life back in the States post-vacation: no apartment, no job, no relationship, sullied reputation. Just some money. And what could be had with money? Why, for 5500 Czech Crowns (about $290) two hours of girlfriend experience with Emily, who was “sensual, smart, and friendly” and possessed of a “down to earth character and a good sense of humor, with always positive attitude.” I got drunk again that night and responded to her email, setting up an assignation for the next evening.
The following day, I was completely nerved out and nearly canceled a dozen times as I pounded the sidewalks of unexceptional suburban quarters to wait out the clock until the escort was due. I showered assiduously, put on my nicest clothes, brushed my teeth for five minutes. The cellphone in my pocket chimed. My heart pounded away whatever traces of innocence were left within me as I darted downstairs to let her in. She was good looking, somewhere near the photos on her website, and immediately put me at ease with her relaxed body language and easy assumption of space in the room (though she wouldn’t drink with me). I fell into nervous logorrhea, as I would on a normal date, but found that she and I had a chemistry and genuine conversational middle ground in the form of her budding journalism career. After an hour she coyly suggested that it was time for a massage, showered up, and then asked me to strip down. The transition from paid companion to prostitute was graceful and maybe even a tiny bit like having a free-choice girlfriend. Condoms still proved erection killing, but she made brief mouth-to-mouth contact and was able to finish me off without my assistance, which hadn’t happened in years. After she had showered again she stuck around a bit to smoke cigarettes and chat. It turned out she was genuinely independent, a full-time student running her own business. She quizzed me about how I found her page for her own SEO research. No pimp, no agency, no club, no crime. It seemed genuinely okay! Just a pleasant consenting transaction between two adults! Maybe Chester Brown was right!
I hardly felt guilty at all after Emily left, and promptly got drunk again and contacted another escort for the next night.
I felt, in fact, a strange sort of relief, like a man who realizes he just can’t raise his kids, and disappears forever on a cigarette run.
So it went with my sense of moral superiority and objective self-worth. Perhaps this was in truth what I had been searching Europe for: not a revival of the superego but a surrender to the id. The next day I was able to enjoy Prague a little, make touristy nods at pleasant vistas, take bland photographs to show no one. The city itself was a whore, turned out for camera-toting Johns to document every orifice. A dim sense of red-light camaraderie buffeted my experience, fortifying me against the cosmic loneliness that had descended in Vienna.
By nightfall I was genuinely excited, particularly as the woman on the website looked stunning and boasted a libertine variety of services. I opened the door with the grateful smile of a middle-aged traveling salesman, and was met with a petulant glare from a woman who was definitely not the one advertised. She was scrawny and borderline ugly, sporting major “Euro face.” All of my perverse hope exploded at once and I saw her quickly register this in her eyes and become even more dour. I led her upstairs in silence, desperately trying to think of how I could dismiss her without causing a scene. She sat sullenly on the couch, eyes glued on a cell phone, from which she took several calls in Czech as I guzzled drinks. She asked twice how long I was staying in Prague, clearly registering little of what I was saying. After some requisite amount of time had passed she stomped into the bathroom for a pre-shower, and I considered jumping out the window.
She stomped back out in a threadbare negligee and laid herself stiffly on the bed, making an inpatient hand gesture that I should join. I lay down next to her. A minute passed with neither of us speaking. She asked me what my problem was. I told her she seemed sad.
She immediately accused me of seeming sad from the instant I saw her, which was true. I insisted that she was sadder.
She launched into a broken English tale of romantic betrayal that afternoon from a childhood sweetheart, a guy who could look you straight in the eye and tell you that you were wearing a blue shirt even though it was white (she tugging violently on my undershirt to demonstrate). I said she should just take the money and go home. At this she became extremely defensive, and started aggressively making out with me while grabbing my crotch, out of vanity or professional obligation I didn’t know. This pissed me off, and in a moment of childish sadism, deprived of my amicable call-girl fantasy, I asked her to do anal. She froze, looked me in the eye, and said “please no.” I have never felt quite as bad about myself and the world as I did in that moment. I jerked myself off as she sucked vindictively on one of my nipples; she jumped away from the shot like it was acid.
The next day in Prague was my last. Every ounce of shame and self-loathing I felt in Paris came back, but my receptors were burnt out from overuse, and these emotions manifested as sheer weight, sandbagging consciousness. I wandered across the beggar-line Charles Bridge, through an elaborate castle, up into some sort of mountain park topped by a giant metronome installation, ticking off the moments before the city is raptured away. There I found Prague’s me-too version of the Eiffel Tower, a fitting recurrence. I followed the Hunger Wall to a mirror maze constructed for a minor World’s Fair. Inside I saw from umpteen angles how bloated I was from Switzerland, Italy, and heavy drinking, with no respite from looking at myself. My beard and hair had grown long and unkempt. Fractured, ugly, and lost, a fitting end to this stop on the tour. When I managed to escape the hall it was full dark. I needed off the mountain. But the park lights were sparse, and I grew increasingly panicked as I hit pitch-dark dead-ends, sudden drop-offs, and strange men huddling in the corners of ruined buttresses. Real fear bubbled up for the first time on the trip; I didn’t want to die. But why not?