OK, I lied. Again, feel free to lay the blame on damaged short term memory or my abject stupidity, but I was wrong. We were actually off to Copenhagen, not Rostock/WarnemÃ¼nde as I previously stated. In a way this is good, because it will delay me having to find an online translation site and cutting and pasting an umlauted vowel since I have no idea how to do that on Word. I used the Help function, but ended up being referred to something called “The Crabby Office Lady” instead of being offered actual help. I suppose I could Google it, but, at this point, I’ve got my system, so I’m sticking to it.Luckily, as far as I know, the Danish do not use umlauts, so, if I can skillfully avoid the use of one of those “o’s” with a line through it, this will be a snap to write. And when I say “as far as I know,” I mean I willfully refuse to do an iota of research confirming that fact.
Here’s what I knew about Copenhagen prior to my arrival:
1. Steve and Lu love it there.
2. It was clean and easy to get around, apparently.
3. They make a good hot dog, apparently.
4. They don’t make the chewing tobacco of the same name, apparently.
Aren’t you proud of me for not making a pastry joke?
So, when we pulled into dock, I was a complete blank slate. Sure, Steve and Lu graciously went to great pains giving us pointers as well as can’t miss/shouldn’t miss sights, but I must’ve blinked or something because, outside of some (Tivoli) garden and the hot dog thing, I couldn’t remember anything they told me. Besides, at this point, I was completely preoccupied with the Songs in A&E quest.
That morning was absolutely perfect, a sky so blue, cobalt wouldn’t be an adequate descriptor. Our ship, much smaller than usual ocean liners (250 guests max), was docked behind a Celebrity ship that hosted the population of a medium sized Scandinavian city. We decided to hit the road early to avoid the crush of “those people,” so I downed my three cups of coffee, two glasses of orange juice and a bottle of water and we descended the gangplank. Our plan was to walk to the edge of the city, assuming Tivoli gardens could be considered the edge, and then, work our way back. This way, we figured, we’d avoid the throngs of people pouring out of the massive liner.
And, I have to say, the plan worked like a charm. After a short walk, we found the Little Mermaid statue and outside of a man setting up a souvenir cart, there was no one else there. We strolled through the Kastellet and the surrounding parks, only seeing bicycling Copenhagers making their ways to work as well as the occasional goose. It was around this time that I felt a stirring in my pants.
No, I’m not a pervert who is easily turned on by bicycles, although my Bianchi has a way of numbing my balls if I’m riding on it too long. That stirring was actually the result of those three cups of coffee, two glasses of orange juice and a bottle of water having worked its way from my mouth to my bladder. It enjoyed its stay in my digestive system, but, it too was eager to see the sights.
So here I was, in Copenhagen, experiencing a need for relief. “No problem,” says I, “we’re not all that far away from the Kongens Nytorv and there are sure to be toilets there.” I even jingled the krones in my pocket verifying that I could cover the possibility of a pay toilet.
At that time, the need was urgent but had, by no means, reached critical mass, so we strolled along the Bredgade window shopping and chatting. By the time we reached the Kongens Nytorv, I was ready. Scanning the square, no public toilets stood out. Perhaps, this is a result of that stylish and minimalistic Scandinavian design and planning I hear so much about. Luckily, there was a city map and, even more luckily, in its legend were the letters “WC” the universal symbol for a pisser. If leakage wasn’t a concern, I’d have jumped for joy, but the ship was a bit of a walk in the other direction and those were the only pair of jeans I had packed.
The map revealed that, nestled among the digestive track road system, we were actually standing on top of a WC. Looking down, however, revealed only cobblestones and the odd cigarette butt. Parenthetically, Scandinavians smoke a lot. Traffic cops. Bicyclists. I even saw a minister sneaking a cigarette outside of a church. I’ll bet somewhere some woman was smoking, while a smoking obstetrician was cutting a smoking baby’s umbilical cord. That’s how smoky that part of the world is. Conversely, everyone is skinny and young. So, am I to assume that the risk of cancer isn’t always a bad thing?
But, as far as we could tell, there were no trapdoors hidden under those cobblestones and cigarette butts which led to subterranean toilets. We started walking the perimeter, in the direction of a concessions stand, thinking, naturally, that where there is food, there should be a toilet. Which is not be interpreted as an indictment on Danish food as a. I had yet to sample any indigent cuisine b. I’ve eaten at Golden Corral at least eight times in my life and nothing, I mean nothing could be any worse than that slop. It’s just that, for sanitation purposes, there usually are facilities where one can relieve themselves and practice good hygiene washing up afterwards in the general vicinity of restaurants.
Nope. No toilets. Nothing. And at this point, the pressure was getting intense and action needed to be taken. We, as quickly as my retention would allow, walked to the subway station nearby thinking that relief would be found there. The place was packed with smoking commuters and rather than taking the steps, in order to avoid disaster, I selected the escalator. I rode it down one level. Two levels. Three levels, past a closed department store, past maps, past tourists, past lockers, all the way to the turnstiles. But, not a single pisspot was found.
You know that scene in Trainspotting where Renton suddenly becomes unconstipated and any standard he held for what passes as an acceptable abode are dropped? I had reached that point and contemplated unzipping and whizzing while I rode that escalator back up. I contemplated this far more seriously than I care to admit. I also thought about pissing in a locker, but there were just too many people and I knew that this operation was going to take more time than I was comfortable with. Plus, I am, if nothing else, a gentleman and gentlemen don’t piss in view of the elderly or Danish.
Back on the surface, I decided to retrace our steps back to the ship figuring that if worse came to worse, I could just go there or in the harbor. Fact: I am an absolute motherfucker when my basic human needs aren’t met. And, along with food, water, electricity, indoor plumbing, Charmin extra soft toilet paper, Puffs with lotion, High Life, Bombay Sapphire, my iPod and my clear gold copy of “Fool’s Gold” on twelve-inch vinyl, I consider a toilet as a basic human need. Call me shallow [Editor’s Note: You’re shallow!], that’s just how I’m wired.
So, of course, we ended getting lost because every cognitive ability I possessed was being channeled into not pissing my pants and, like I’ve already run into the ground, European street layout sucks hard. I probably said some things to Michelle that I ought not have said and I regret those incidents. And, in this semi-public forum, I apologize, my dear, for thinking let alone saying that I was going to make you into a stew if you didn’t find our way back. It was the desperation of the situation that caused me to remark about how I hated you worse than The Steelers, The Cubs, Goebbels, Satan and James Taylor.
When a man can taste how badly he needs to pee, strange, bad and Godless things happen.
If there were alleyways in Copenhagen, the problem would’ve been solved, but block after charming block, every square inch was filled with delightful buildings straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen story. No alleyways, no privacy. The situation needed to be resolved and soon.
So, as I was climbing into an industrial construction dumpster (no, I’m not joking), Michelle, who at that point had enough of my vitriol and decided, for the sake of our marriage, to walk thirty feet ahead, turned the corner. “Get down from there, I found you a place.”
A chorus of angels singing glad tidings about the reformation of the classic Stone Roses line-up (Ian, John, Mani, Reni and Cressa with John Leckie producing in case you were wondering) could not have sounded any sweeter. Barely registering the woman walking her dog, glaring at me for nearly defiling a dumpster, I, with clenched legs walking like a crab, made my way to Michelle. She pointed me to the open door of a restaurant where a kind man pointed me to the toilet in the rear of the restaurant. Like a ninja, I managed to open the toilet lid, unzip, remove and shut the door in one, fluid and perfect motion.
The relief was immense. So immense, that I started to black out. Frighteningly, that wouldn’t have been the first, second or third time I’ve passed out while peeing. Sure, one of those times, I had just polished off my second bottle of Mad Dog Kiwi Lime and collapsed in someone’s tomato garden, but the other two times, I was sober as a judge. Fact: If you’re a guy and aren’t one of those nancies who pee sitting down, you should, absolutely under no circumstance and especially not while in a state of extreme relief, lock your knees. Something about a quick and massive drop in blood pressure which results in waking to find you’ve made a mess and your wife shouting at you with equal parts concern and disgust.
Maybe you already knew this, but it took me nearly thirty-three years to figure that out. Fortunately, I was thirty-five, so I bent my knees, cleared my head and finished the job upright. I washed my hands and as I was leaving, I approached the sainthood bound restaurant owner. I shook his hand and, in broken Danish, said “Tak. Mange tak.” (Thanks. Thank you very much.)
Rick Steves again knew just what to say.
With a clear mind and empty bladder, I sheepishly apologized to my poor, suffering wife. Eight years into our marriage and fifteen since I’ve known her, I’m still amazed that she tolerates me as well as she does and, with that in mind, she shrugged it off, we found where we were and re-started our day. We visited Amalienborg and had fun watching the Japanese tour group pose with the Royal “Fuzzy Headed” Palace Guards. We visited palaces, churches and cathedrals. We made it up to Tivoli, but walked past it given its high admission price and, what appeared to be the lack of anything going on inside.
But after thirty minutes of walking, my familiar nemesis made a return appearance. Fortunately for you, the reader, and me, the pisser, we found a public restroom quite quickly in a large public square that held many shopping establishments. After business was attended to, I ate my first Danish hotdog.
I remember it like it was yesterday. In our Copenhagen briefings, Steve told me about these hot dogs and the magical mustard and ketchup combination. At the time, I sort of blew his enthusing off thinking that I’ve ploughed through New York and Chicago hot dogs and nothing, I mean nothing beats a Chicago dog. The dog itself is tasty, but when cucumbers, peppers, onions, pickle, tomato, celery salt and a relish of an unearthly green hue are added, you’ve got yourself a meal fit for a condemned man, minutes from execution.
So, when I saw the photos on the PÃ¸lsevogn stand’s sign, I scoffed, but paid the nice woman for one that appeared to be wrapped in bacon. Fact: Bacon, more than beer, “Fool’s Gold” and my wife, is proof of a benevolent God and while the more lilly-livered of you might cringe at the idea of nitrate laden cured meat byproduct wrapped around nitrate laden cured meat byproduct, the gourmands among us know better. Hell, if the Bush administration could be wrapped in bacon, I’d reconsider some things.
These things, admittedly, aren’t much to look at and probably would be best ingested in complete darkness as they kind of look like an eighty year old male stripper’s sunburned doodle (wrapped in bacon). But, man, if that’s what it’s like putting an eighty year old doodle in your mouth, then sign me up. The bacon was deceptively crunchy, yet pliable. The mustard and ketchup packed a punch and the dog itself was perfectly salty. Sure, it didn’t hold the same garish appeal as a Chicago dog, but Europeans, I’ve learned, are a bit more subdued than their American counterparts.
With a full belly and empty bladder, I decided this was the perfect time to wrap up my Songs in A&E quest. Surveying the area, I saw two bookstores and drawing up my twenty-two years of record buying experience, I deducted that where there are bookstores in a city center, there are also going to be record stores. And, if I was really lucky, one of those two bookstores would actually sell CDs. Excitedly, we entered the first store and I was heartened to see a wall of CDs. That heartening gave way to crushing disappointment when I realized that the store only sold Classical music.
Shit, fuck, damn.
Who listens to Classical music these days?
No problem, we, I mean I, gathered my resolve and started walking down a likely looking street. Within a few minutes, I found a record store and I ran inside excited. I charted a path to the “Spi” section and, it shouldn’t surprise you, of course, it wasn’t there. Consulting my Rick Steve’s phrasebook, I managed to figure out how to ask the clerk if they had a copy hidden somewhere: “Er du i besiddelse af en Spiritualized cd i din ryg?” (Are you possessing a Spiritualized CD in your back?)
“No sir, we just sold our last copy this morning. If you’d like, I can contact our vendor from whom I could order a copy which should arrive in no less than two day’s time,” she replied in English that put my native tongue to shame.
“Ã…h nej, min krop vil ikke vÃ¦re i dette spot i dette tidsrum.” (Oh no, my body won’t be in this spot during that time.)
“No problem, good sir,” she replied, “If you, when exiting this shopping establishment, were to proceed to your left, you will be delighted to hear that there are no less than two record stores, within a very short walk of this locality.”
“Merci beaucoup,” I confidently responded.
Unfortunately, it was the same story at the other two locations: sold out in both places and both places directed me to the previous two area record stores. Naturally, I was disappointed, but figured that we still had half of the city to see, so I might luck out still.
As it turned out, we took close to 37,000 steps that day. Michelle was participating in a woman’s health initiative that encouraged exercise as a way to stay healthy and one of the goals was a modest 10,000 steps daily. She bought a pedometer and, at the end of each day, would record her efforts. Those 37,000 steps took us around this beautiful city, into the public gardens, through Rosenborg Castle and the Crown Jewels, to another hot dog, into a grocer to buy some Danish ketchup and then, back to the pier. But not a single record store.
We stopped about 300 yards from our gangplank, our legs aching and begging relief from one more step. Sitting on a bench, I eyed the taxis which were queued up outside the fence in a manner befitting a Steelers fan viewing a shrimp buffet. The sensible side of me, also known as my wife, decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to figure out how to tell a Danish taxi driver that we wished to be driven 300 yards (Vil De venligst kÃ¸re mig 300 vÃ¦rfter i den retning). It probably wasn’t worth how ever many krone it would’ve cost.
Mustering up whatever energy we didn’t have, we stood and started the (not so) long and (way so) arduous journey back. All 300 yards of it. The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I’m sure we showered, I’m sure I drank a quantity of Sapphire and tonic with a lime to soothe my barking dogs. I’m sure we ate like kings and slept like the dead, but I don’t recall the particular details of that night. Blame my diminishing short term memory. What I do remember is that I was no closer to Songs in A&E than I had been 37,000 steps ago.