Over the massive speakers comes the sound of YMCA. Yes, by the Village People.
I’m in Barcelona. At a packed club. It’s 2013. YMCA? How (why) is this happening?
Also, why am I dancing on the elevated stage with my crutches held above my head?
– let’s back up.
The past three days have been a lesson in slowing down. Hobbling from one room to the next, learning to use crutches for the first time has been a lesson in how weak my hands and arms are. Two blocks to the cash machine leaves me sweaty and sore. Shopping is a fresh challenge: I can’t hold a basket because I need both hands to use the crutches. Mind you, these are hand-only crutches (called forearm crutches, I guess), apparently Spain doesn’t believe in the ones that go up to your armpits. Thus: the hands and arms bear all 200 pounds of me on every step.
My days are spent with my leg propped up on chairs (or pillows if the couch is free). I read more than I have in recent memory: blogs, news, stories. I write in my always-in-progress novel, rewriting the first 2 chapters again, finishing a third, planning the fourth. I listen to music. I go to bed early.
However, by Saturday I’m feeling more confident with my crutches. With help from Hook, another Aussie friend from the hostel here, I purchase enough groceries to make a large stir fry for dinner. I offer others in the hostel to have some. Hook and I eventually get caught up in a late-night game of “King’s Cup” with 11 other travelers. If you have no experience with this, it’s basically a massively dangerous game where cards are picked up by person after person, and each card’s face value corresponds to an action (where action translates to: somebody in the circle will have to take a drink. Or 12).
At one point in the game a rule has been made (anyone drawing a 10 makes a new rule) that nobody can speak in their own accent. Penalty for failing this: you must take a drink. We have a Brit speaking with a French accent, an American girl trying a bit of cockney, A Turkish girl taking far too many drinks because she can’t seem to remember to speak with an accent, a Mexican girl staying very quite, and a crew of Canadians and Australians leaping boldly between southern, Irish, Scottish, Russian, and Jamaican.
One of the hostel employees comes to inform us we are being far too loud. It is, after all, 1 in the morning now. The yelling dies for about 2 sentences, then resumes its full cacophony with Irish yelling over Jamaican over Russian. Turkey looses the game by drawing the last king and has to drink the cup at the center of the table. The table is littered with drained bottles of wine and cans of cheap beer.
I produce a black marker and prop my cast on the table: obviously rowdy, drunk people are the right people to sign my cast. I acquire a well-rendered Trogdor near my foot, some cuss words from the Mexican, a plea to “pray for Turkey” from the Turkish girl, and a diagram of caffeine’s molecular structure from an American MIT biology student, among other things.
At some point, the crew is eager to head out to continue the party on the town. I pack up my backpack (now my constant accessory since my hands can’t hold anything when I move around) and head to my room. Hook meets me as I make my laborious way up the stairs and looks shocked “what, man, you aren’t coming out? You should come out!”.
The following logic, if you can call it that, asserts itself:
Sure I can go to bed and get rested up. Get an early start on more writing tomorrow.
But this will likely be my last chance to go out in Barcelona.
And wouldn’t it be a good story to be at a bar or club on my crutches in Barcelona?
And life is all about having good stories, right?
Well, at 2 am, this makes perfect sense. Thus, I find myself in a group of 10 or so people, hailing a cab in the cool night air. Through lack of planning and coordination, I’m in a cab with only a guy from Kansas and the rest of the people are hailing other cabs. Kansas and I are dropped in the heart of Tourist Barcelona: Las Ramblas. He’s never been here, so he is at the mercy of yours truly; the One Legged Wonder. Ramblas at night is a gaudy mass of drunken clubbers, people selling cans of beer on the street, neon signs, street food vendors and prostitutes.
I lurch down the street, looking for the club we all agreed to meet at. Through several wrong turns and 2 attempts to ask directions, we discover the club, plus a line of about 100 people waiting to get in. I innocently go to the bouncer, an impressive pile of muscles with a bullet-shaped shaved head, and inquire: “perdon, este la cola para entrar?” (is this the line to get in). Bullet scowls, looks me up and down and says “el club, hay mucha gente. Mucha gente” (in the club, there are many people. Many people). He indicates my cast and crutches. I nod: “si, es no problemo”.
He opens the rope and we roll on in. First advantage to being a gimp: cut through lines like butter. I kinda feel like a bad, bad person for skipping the line. But not bad enough to not do it.
inside, there are stairs. Oh so many stairs. One at a time with my lobster-claw crutches, in the dark, dodging other people. The main floor is crowded. American hip-hop blares, green laser lights spray the room with dots. People gyrate. I find that by sticking my crutches slight forward between people, I can easily clear a path. I apologize profusely as I cut through the crowd “Perdon, disculpe, perdon”. It’s too crowded, so we head to the back, and up 2 more flights of stairs. My god, the stairs. My hands are burning from the weight of every step, but we reach the top and we are in a blue-lit room, filled (but not packed) with people dancing, and the sounds of… seventies disco? Madness.
We order drinks. Kansas seems unsure how to conduct himself. He explains they have nothing like this where he’s from. His home town has 2000 people. Oh, my young friend, the things you have yet to see. Our friends eventually join us, but their number has dwindled to just 3 by now (Hook, MIT, and another who I forget…), the rest having fallen to one excuse or another along the way.
When I try to move from one side of the bar to the other, a group of three girls grab me exclaiming about my cast and how awesome it is that I don’t let that stop me from coming out. A big wet kiss is planted on my cheek. Kansas joins in and dances along. Soon he and a blonde girl are paired up. We all end up dancing on an elevated stage (my one-legged ascension less than graceful). YMCA plays. I grimace at the awfulness. Regardless: dancing. Crutches over my head. Balancing on one foot and (gingerly) my cast. Our group disperses (girls go to smoke, Kansas goes somewhere), I ungracefully come down from the stage and make my way back to the bar above the dance floor.
On the way a girl tells me I look like Mathew McConaghuey (ah, beer goggles, what fun you are). She asks me 4 times if I’m straight, implying that any man putting forth the effort to dance with a leg in a cast must, surely, be gay. Despite my assertions she introduces me to her male friend, who kisses my hand. I stumble out my apologies and retire to the bar and the comfort of my hostel crew.
The girls re-appear and sign my cast, naming themselves “Walking Disaster” (a name which I think I could apply to myself, given the results manifest on my foot). Dancing at the bar resumes. The short haired girl and her long-haired friend dance around me, blondie and Kansas do some swing dancing. Hook and MIT dance.
Another man comes and informs me, in halting English, that he owns a restaurant in town, and if I want to come tomorrow he’ll feed me for free. I have very little idea what to make of this overture. He continues to point to me and say “only you, only you”. He then gestures to my friends “no amigos, solo”. I thank him for his offer, hopefully politely.
By the time we leave, the sun is threatening to find us if we don’t get home soon; you can see the lightening of the sky on the horizon. We hail taxis and arrive back at the hostel with little incident. Sleep quickly closes the night out.
Things I’ve learned:
- One can still have fun at a club even when on crutches.
- A cast, apparently, makes for a great ice breaker.
- Dancing with crutches (especially to YMCA, naturally) is a foolproof way to advertise that you are gay. And nothing you say afterwards will change this.
- The club “Jamboree” in Barcelona inexplicably plays a long set of terrible 70’s and 80’s tunes.
The results of the night as played out on my cast: