It’s taken me a while to get this final installment of my trip to Italy completed. One reason is I’ve been hellfire busy since I’ve returned to the States, and another is that the very company who decided one week that I was the very best person to send to Italy for the project I was working on is the same company who, not even a week later, decided I was no longer a part of its future, and told me not to let the doorknob hit me where the good Lord split me. That has naturally left a sour taste in my mouth with regard to writing about the trip, but honestly, the biggest reason for my hesitation is this: I simply haven’t known where to begin. Even now, as I sit here at my grandmother’s house in South Carolina, I’m not sure what approach to take with this story. Usually my modus operandi is to find the right angle on whatever story I’m writing in order to maximize the humor quotient. I’m discovering through numerous retellings that this story needs no such angle; it simply needs to be told. I may even have to split it due to its size. If so, I’m sure you can deal with that. You’re loyal. You’ll be back for more.

Presumptuous, ain’t I? You love me.

On with the show.

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I have no observations on my last full day in Italy. My last full day in Italy began with angst. You see, I was damn near broke. I was in Italy on company business, and I had a company credit card, but apparently the “American” in American Express was too much for most merchants to bear, and so they didn’t accept it. I had thoughtfully gotten a wad of Euros to use while there, but my supply was running low, and I was threatened with international bodily harm if I raided my bank account again to fund my trip. I had contacted the AmEx emergency travel team, who kindly withdrew $300 from my card (my company didn’t sign up for the extremely useful cash advance program) and wired it to me via Western Union. The previous day AmEx sent me to a nearby bank, claiming I could get the money there. I arrived at the bank with 10 words of Italian and a pocketful of hope. I left with the words. After 30 minutes of discussion, the branch manager finally understood that I was trying to get wired money and not a bank transfer, and he sent me on my way with these words: “In Italy, these things sometimes take 4 or 5 days. Come back tomorrow.” AmEx said it takes 10 minutes. Someone was a filthy liar, and I was pissed. After walking back to work (walking became a theme with me), I screamed at AmEx on the phone like I was a pimp, and AmEx showed up $50 light that night. They promised me that I could get my money at a local Mail Boxes Etc. I trusted them. Again. And so began my Friday.

Knowing I had an early flight Saturday morning, I wisely checked out of my hotel Friday morning and had my taxi driver take me to Mail Boxes Etc. so I could get my cash. I was down to my last 15 or so Euros, but screw it – I was getting money from MBE, right? I’d be fine. I got dropped off at the spot, luggage in tow, and went into the MBE. They even had a Western Union sign on the door, in English. I asked for my money. They stared. I tried in Italian, using well-known Italian phrases like “transfery-ay il money-ay” and “western union me get” while pointing at my chest. Finally they understood. They checked their computer. No money for Damian. Now I became concerned. I made them double- and triple-check, only to get the same result. They told me “In Italy, these things sometimes take 4 or 5 days. Come back in 2 hours.” The hand of God must’ve held my wrist, because Satan really wanted me to bitchslap him for saying that.

Knowing I didn’t have enough money for a taxi, I asked where I could catch a bus so I could get to work. They pointed me in the right direction, I bought a ticket, and waited in the designated area. Problem: the orange pole they told me to wait beside was, in reality, TWO orange poles – one for intercity Monza bus routes, and one for Milan bus routes. Although I knew that I needed to stay in Monza, I had no idea if that bus took lefts when I needed some rights. So, I waited. And waited. In the atypical 40 degree weather, with only a light pullover and my luggage to keep my American ass warm. Finally, a bus stopped in front of me. This wasn’t unusual, as several buses had already stopped, destination unknown. The only difference with the last bus was the fact that I was tired of being cold, and the bus was heading in the correct direction. I hopped on, dragging my bags, and looked for a friendly face. I spotted a black woman two seats ahead of me. Score.

Me: “Parlate l’inglese?” (Do you speak English?)
Her: “Yes!”
Me: “Oh, thank God. Listen, I’m trying to get to Via Philips (the name of the street where my work sits). Will this bus take me there?”
Her: “Budspih lsd,nflk4 lkanlk-9o4 alknal.”
Me (confused): “Excuse me?”
Her: “Busipon askl wasi aqo3qiq.”
Me: “Uhhhhhhhhhhhh….non capisco.” (I don’t understand.)
Her (looking at me like I just grew lemons from my scalp): “Hsypoih alknc lknlciwe!”
I realized then that yes, she was indeed speaking English, but she was African – her accent was completely indecipherable. I shrugged at her, smiled sadly, and faced away, unsure of what to do next. 20 seconds passed, and she asked me in plain-as-day English this question:

Her: “Are you Australian?”
Me: “WHAT?”
Her (like a parent says to a child): “Are. You. Australian?”
Me: “No. I’m from the States.”
Her: “Where?”
Me (sighing): “America.”
Her: “Oh. (pause) Wlskns glknrlkgtwl dlvlksanfla?”

I gave up. Suddenly, I see the bank that denied me my funds the day before. I knew where I was! I look around for a chain to pull or a button to push, and the African lady actually understood and pushed the button for me to make the bus stop. Except…the bus didn’t stop. The driver kept rolling. My street was rapidly approaching, and I started pushing that button like I expected Jessica Alba to slide out of a dispenser. No dice. That bastard driver kept on going, leaving my street behind us in a wake of dust and lost hope. He finally stopped the bus about 5 minutes later when he hit some particularly thick traffic, and he accidentally leaned on the lever that opens the doors (that’s the only explanation I have for his sudden generosity), and I quickly grabbed my 50 lb suitcase and lunged from the bus onto the street. I was then faced with a choice: double back, or plunge forward. The street I needed sat at a 45 degree angle from the street I was on. Basic geometry told me that if I kept going straight down the street I was on, and took a right, I’d hit my street again soon, without having to double back to find the way I had already taken the day before on my fruitless and pointless trip to the bank. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ll know that me and math should never, ever cohabitate the same space at the same time. Calamity always ensues.

You see, I figured I’d be able to locate the work campus quickly because of the large white wrought iron fence that surrounded the entire complex. You can practically see that fence from space. However, when I rounded the corner, what I saw was NADT: Not A Damn Thing. I was committed to my path, though, and I had Eminem pumping on my mp3 player. I was black, I was angry, I was lost, and I was listening to a white rapper. Watch the fuck out. I didn’t so much walk down the street as much as I stalked down the street, my feet hitting the pavement so hard it should’ve been a misdemeanor assault. Every step was accompanied by an alternating stream of Slim Shady profanity and a repeated mantra of “I wanna go home. I wanna go home”. My suitcase mocked me by dragging Italian leaves behind me, leaving a long clean trail along the sidewalk to mark my progress. Finally, after 10 minutes, I saw the fence. Oh God, there was that damn fence. The way I reacted to it, you would’ve thought I was on the run like Jason Bourne, and I’d just found the U.S. embassy. As I walked through the gate, the security guard waved, then noticed my suitcase. He waggled his index and middle fingers in the universal sign asking me “Did you walk here?” I gave him a grim smile, and went into the building. My day was only beginning.

To be continued.

Peace.

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