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This is the seventh, and final chapter of one man’s quest to find an album by Spiritualized that nearly broke him mentally. Type in “The Hunt” in our search engine to read every chapter from this epic tale.

The last day of any trip is always kind of bittersweet.  On one hand, you’ve got a lifetime of hopefully, great memories, but on the other hand, you know that this time tomorrow, you’ll be stuck in the hell known as the office, or worse, air travel.  And brothers and sisters, ain’t nothing worse than air travel. Mother nature combined with a steady regimen of Flintstone vitamins and a solid Germanic genetic make-up has made me quite tall.  Freakishly tall, some would say, but people who say that are assholes even if that is how I sometimes choose to describe myself.

We vertically enhanced people know that quite often the world is not made for us.  Oh sure, we can see the band on the stage, but that benefit is usually negated by some dwarf who, after you had been standing in that same spot for set-up, the opener, the second opener and some tattooed roadie shouting “Check, check, one, two, one two” into the mic for forty-seven minutes, decided to stand behind you and then spend the entire remainder of the show complaining about how their view is behind blocked.

Really outside of concert sight lines and maybe the ability to get things off of the top shelf, being tall actually kind of sucks.  Clothes are hard to find, our backs hurt a lot, we’re clumsy and more heinously, airplane seats bypassed “uncomfortable” and got off on the “Spanish Inquisition” exit.  Like they were designed by dwarfs’ intent on paying back the tall guy who blocked their view at that Jesus and Mary Chain show back in what was it, ’94, ’95?

Even on the shortest flights, even on those puddle-jumpers, I inevitably find myself sitting behind someone who, despite being short enough to warrant a booster seat, is the first person to recline and the last person to return their seats to a full and upright position.  And despite my pleas of relief, of kindness, of humanity, of deep vein thrombosis, that person ignores me at best, or at worst, starts rocking back and forth (true story).

Sleep is hard to come by and I, generally, become quite angry and listless.  I know when I’ve reached my breaking point when I begin to consider mass genocide on anyone less than five and a half feet tall.  And that doesn’t even take into consideration all the other frustrations and annoyances airports offer in lieu of efficiency and service.

The worst of it was the time Michelle and I were to fly back from Tahiti into LA.  There were only 2 flights on that route.  We were, if memory serves and if Michelle doesn’t correct me, scheduled to fly out on the afternoon flight.  Something happened to the morning flight and it never left LA, so you had 250 people who were stuck in Tahiti, which in and of itself doesn’t sound that bad until you consider the lack of personal hygiene products to say nothing of missing connecting flights.  A rep went around asking for volunteers to give up their seats and a few accepted, leaving the rest of us to sit at the airport, waiting and hoping for the evening flight to arrive.

As minutes became hours and hours became more hours and as the sun was consumed by the sea, the plane, our plane, was nowhere to be seen.  Finally, around 7:00, a Hawaiian airline rep told us that the evening flight had been delayed in LAX for mechanical problems and updates would be given periodically.

Apparently, in Tahitian culture, “periodically” means “never” because that was the last we saw of our rep for the remainder of the night.  To compound things, that was just about the last that we saw of any airport official, save the odd janitor or security guard and the crowd…well, that crowd was getting restless.  One of those perpetual thorns in the proverbial side was getting louder, angrier, trying to whip the stranded passengers up into missed flight frenzy.

Finally, after eight more uninformed and sweltering hours in that airport, a plane arrived and, within an hour or so, we all had boarded to return to the States.  It was the first time I ever saw people cheering when the stewardess gave her safety spiel.

We arrived in LA close to 18 hours behind schedule, so connections were obviously lost.  The pilot informed us that there would be a cadre of uniformed employees who would help travelers with their connection needs, but as we exited the plane, all we saw was a lone, poor woman, holding a clipboard being surrounded by close to 50 screaming travelers.  The scene was quite sickening and reminiscent of an African savannah feeding frenzy.

My brilliant wife grabbed me by the arm and told me to leave it.

“But…but…but…” I protested, simple-mindedly assuming that clipboard wielding woman was our only hope.  “Just follow me and keep your mouth shut if you want to live,” I recall her saying.

In retrospect, I don’t think that was what she actually said, but for creative and intensity building purposes, it sounds way better than “I’ve got an idea.  Let’s go to the American Airlines desk and see what they can do.”

Now, I’ve never been the luckiest traveler.  If there are sweaty, smelly Germans, screaming babies or Jesus freaks on a plane, I will be seated within 6 inches of them.  If there is a plane that breaks down on the tarmac, I’ll be on it.  If, after hours of delays, the airline decides to cancel a flight which, in effect, strands me at O’Hare, I’ll be booked on that flight.  So, with that all in mind, I was prepared to either shell out hundreds of dollars for a new flight or spend the night in LA; neither of which sounded like a lot of fun.

But, lady luck smiled upon us that day. As the sort of familiar looking woman left the counter in front of us, an absolutely glowing young man waved us over.  “Dude…did you see her?  That was the Doritos girl.” (In case you’re a foreigner, aren’t up on obscure pop culture references or someone who refuses to watch TV because…you know, it’s soulless, vacuous and worthless and you get off spending hours telling people you think are your friends about how they are wasting time watching the idiot box while quoting bits of the Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy, then just Youtube it using the search terms “Doritos girl”).

Maybe it was that he was walking on air or maybe he just was a really nice guy or maybe it was a combination of the two, but he, very much against regulations, somehow tweaked the system into getting us on a Delta flight leaving within the hour.  Amazing.  A bit harrowing, but we finally got home with our luggage.

So, as the ship navigated through the crystalline waters of the archipelagos and into Stockholm,

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my mind was less on the sights we’d see or even Songs in A&E and more on the fact that we were flying stand-by out of Amsterdam the following day.  An email I received from a pilot friend told me that the plane was pretty much at capacity, so there was a chance that we’d not get on.  Under normal circumstances, an unplanned night in Amsterdam would be great and, in fact, that thought was why I originally urged Michelle to arrange the flights that way rather than going through Gatwick or de Gaulle.  I mean, if we got stuck, why not be stuck in a city where I can get high to pass the time?  Of course, this isn’t what I told her.  “Schiphol is such a better airport than de Gaulle or Gatwick,” I said.

While that statement is actually true, I deluded myself into actually believing that I fooled her with my reasoning.  She knows, oh she knows, how one of my favorite memories of going to Amsterdam was wandering through the streets at night, smoking a spliff and just being so at peace with my wife and the cinematic beauty of the city all the while floating in space.  That was 100% better than my first trip to Amsterdam, though.

I was 15 years old and traveling internationally more or less alone for the first time in my life.  In fact, I had never even traveled alone ever.  After the culture shock of Telford, England and its pork pies, the Red Hot and Dutch satellite channel and vindaloos, I was ready for home.  I had flown to ‘Dam with my dad who then flew on to Milan where he had business, so it was arranged that I would meet him at the hotel when we both made it back to the city.  No problem, right?  At the airport, I found my way to the train and made it to Amsterdam Centraal.  Almost immediately off the train, a sweaty man with an open shirt, hairy chest and chains came up to me.  Leering down on me, he asked if I needed a place to stay for the night.

Thankfully, my parents warned me against talking to strangers because little Susie McInstein down the street got kidnapped by Arab slave traders and they forced her into slavery where she was sold to a brothel where she had to entertain dwarf circus carnies and other nightmares directly from a Nick Cave song And after she got a bit long in the tooth, they chopped her up and made her into stew, so I ran.  I ran fast.

I ran fast right past the taxi rank, right past the bus information kiosk and right into the red-light district.  Now, you’d think that a 15 year old boy would be in heaven surrounded by nearly naked women gyrating in windows, but given a somewhat repressive Lutheran upbringing and an ill-advised stint in Young Life, I, embarrassingly at the time, equated sex with eternal damnation.  Which is not to say that I’d patronize a hooker even if I was single.  Being as socially inept and out of the game as I am, I honestly just wouldn’t even know how to get started getting on with a hooker.  “Umm, so, you come here much, ma’am?” or “I would like a bout of fellatio.  Do you take traveler’s checks?” Plus, I’d know she’d be faking everything and that would just make me feel weird or make me start laughing or something.  That would get the pimp pissed and then I’d get the shit kicked out of me.

Either way, celibacy is a much better option.

Those are just some of the reasons I’ve never visited a whore.  Here are some more:

a) Fear of diseases
b) Exploitation
c) It might actually be a dude.
d) I’ve seen way too many police stings and the whole “Are you a cop?” thing doesn’t work.
e) I’d rather spend my money on an obscure seven inch single by a Madchester band no one but their moms and me have ever heard of, let alone remember.

I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time that a bunch of hookers saw a 15 year old boy running down the street, covering his eyes and wetting his pants, but it might have given them a chuckle that day.  I finally found my way out of the Red-Light District and was almost to the hotel when a scraggy man came up to me.  He said something I couldn’t quite understand, so I asked him to say it again.  “Hash, brown, coke?”

Cocking my head like a curious terrier, I stared at him quizzically.  “Huh?”

“Hash, brown, coke?”

A couple of things here.  In all of my drug taking over the years, I have never come across hash in Cincinnati, so at the time, the word hash only applied if the next word was “brown.”  And although I had heard of coke as slang for cocaine, I thought maybe the guy was just offering me breakfast.  “No thanks, sir, I’ve already eaten,” I said as I pushed on past him.

“Nooooo, hash,” he said making the universal gesture of smoking a joint.

My eyes widened as I squeaked out a bit more urine into my already soggy jeans.  By the time I arrived at the hotel, I smelled of a record store, my heart was racing and I made my dad promise to not make me leave the room.  It wasn’t so much culture shock as it was culture rape. After some convincing, I hesitantly agreed to go to a McDonald’s across the street for dinner where I thought I’d be safe.  Naturally, we were panhandled by a guy with track marks all up and down his arms supposedly trying to get to Rotterdam.  To this day, I associate junkies with Rotterdam.

Over the years, that night had become something of a family joke and even years later when I told my folks that I was going back, they took care to make sure I was up for it.  Now I see it for what it is: A beautiful city, with tolerant, warm and friendly people, culturally diverse and, sure, it was nice smoking up while there.

But, now, on the second to last day of a 15 day trip, I was just looking forward to getting home and sleeping in my own bed, however great the vacation had already been.  Nearly every experience we had during our time was amazing and we were just ready.

The ship docked and we took the shuttle into Stockholm.  It was the day of the marathon, so traffic was pretty bad and it took quite a while since certain roads had closed to accommodate the runners.  We arrived in the city center and I was immediately overwhelmed by how many people were on the streets.  It was nothing short of amazing.  I’ve been to New York, London, Paris, Chicago and L.A. and am used to crowded streets, but this was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  And they weren’t just normal people; these were people who looked like they had stepped out of every MTV video ever made.  Punks with liberty spikes, Goths, emo kids, hip hoppers, metal chicks, you name it.  And, they didn’t look like they were dated or even co-opting the style with a modern twist; they looked like somehow they stepped out of that era and were transplanted into 2008 Stockholm.  From a people watching perspective, it was brilliant.

We forgot to bring a map, so we just started walking through a pretty generic looking shopping district.  I had my eyes peeled for a record store, but at this point, I wasn’t expecting a ton.  After a bit of a hike, the crowd thinned out and we found ourselves in a leafy part of the town.  We stopped in a church and stared in awe of the design and artwork on its walls.  We visited a charity shop and while Michelle looked through the antique teapots, I asked the clerk if there were any record stores in the area.

Being the clever cat I am, this time, rather than trying to cobble together an awkwardly worded sentence, I asked her “Talar du engelska?” (do you speak English?) She said she did, so I asked my question but, of course, she could only give me vague recollection that there might be one back on a street we had already walked down.  Rats.  Michelle bought her stuff and we headed back out through another park, an outdoor market, into another church, past a group of Peruvian Indians playing pan-flutes and past the marathon’s 18 mile (or was that kilometer?) marker.  Leaning up against a wall, we watched as the runners pushed and willed themselves to continue.  I thought of my own personal marathon trying to find that rotten CD and decided that, hey, if a person can run 26.2 miles, then I can be a big boy and find a record store.  Or, at least, die trying.

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We pressed on, up the world’s narrowest street, past a woman flashing her cooze while sitting inappropriately on the steps of a church and into a teahouse for some refreshment.  It was getting late and we had a very early wake-up in the morning, so we decided to head back to the ship to pack, get an early dinner and turn in so we could get some rest.  As we made our way through the crowds, I thought over our trip and all the wonderful memories I had: Sharing a meal and drinks with Rafe’s parents at their home in Deal; eating sketchy kebobs by a canal in Canterbury; having Rafe and Karen show us their Oxford; the ship leaving London under Tower Bridge; that quiet church in Honfluer; sitting in a park in Copenhagen basking in the sun; speaking German to Germans for the first time; riding bikes through Bornholm as well as countless other thoughts bounced around my head.  I was so preoccupied with my memories, that I nearly didn’t notice Michelle tugging at my arm, wildly pointing at a window.

A window behind which were CDs.  Lots and lots of CDs.  I gasped and knocked her to the ground as I made a beeline to the entrance.  If I was any sort of a writer, I’d concoct a story about how the doors were closing for the night and my frustration continued.  Or that the doors closed, but Michelle sweet-talked the clerk into opening just long enough for me to buy the CD after telling them the whole story of the hunt like the time she did when she got me the Second Coming CD at Gatwick the day it was released before the store even opened.

But, I’m not that kind of writer and the store was not ready to close for the night.  Once inside, I think I must have blacked out, because I remember nothing from the time I crossed the threshold until I arrived at the “SPR” area of the POP/ROCK section.  I didn’t even need to flip through the CDs, because there, at eye level, was a display with Jason Pierce’s face, plastered next to a review of Songs in A&E. And there, next to his face and next to that review was the CD.  It was gorgeous featuring a simple white cover with green lettering of the title and the band’s name.  Lightening fast, I grabbed one of the 25 copies just in case there was a run on it in the usual two seconds it would’ve normally taken me to get one.  It felt like I was floating as I made my way to the till.

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I handed the CD to the dreadlocked and pierced clerk excitedly giving her an account of my quest up until now:

“OHMYGODICAN’TBELIEVEIFINALLYFOUNDTHISCDICOULDN’TFINDITANYWHERENOTHONFLUERNOTCOPENHAGENNOTHEREORTHEREORANYWHEREHAPPYSOHAPPYDOYOUTAKEAMERICANEXPRESS?”

Smiling politely, she rang me up and handed me the receipt saying, “I hope you’ll like it.”

She hopes I’ll like it?  Helga, please.  It’s Spiritualized and has three songs with the word “Fire” in the title.  I had a CD player back at the ship, but decided that since we had a ton of stuff to do before we left, I’d just hold off until we reached Schiphol.  It wasn’t easy holding that glorious piece of plastic, wondering if I could make another 15 hours without hearing it.  But, I am strong.  I am willful and, like those marathoners, I’d push myself through to the last mile.

That night, we packed, had our dinner, had a last drink, then another and another after that before retiring for the night.  In the morning, a shuttle took us to the airport where we caught a connecting flight into Amsterdam.  After a bit of transfer hassle, we found our way to the gate only to discover that the flight was now oversold and our stand-by buddy passes might not work.  It didn’t matter.  I opened the CD, gingerly removed it from the case and put it in the player.  I put my noise-canceling headphones on and pressed play.

The first track was an instrumental piece before going into the disc’s first song, the gorgeous “Sweet Talk.”  Goosebumps.  Then the sparse “Death Take Your Fiddle” then the raw “I Gotta Fire” and the nearly pop “Soul on Fire.”  Stunning and, sonically, all over the place.  I pressed pause and handed the headphones to Michelle saying, “You’ve got to hear the first four songs.” And, although, they aren’t her favorite band, she did look up a couple of times saying “Wow.”

I got the headphones back and relaxed, at this point not caring whether we made the flight or not.  But, to bring this to an end, I’ll say that we did make the flight.  There were only two seats available, one in coach, one in 1st class.  Michelle, being the selfless person she is, took the coach ticket and insisted on me going to first class.  Me, being the selfish person I am, took the first class ticket and waved goodbye to her.  In all fairness, I am, as I’ve said, quite tall, and the added legroom, better food, warm blankets, full sized pillows and unlimited wine and booze are really a health issue rather than a comfort thing.

On the flight back, I spun that disc several more times and, over the months, it has remained one of my favorite releases of 2008.  And although it wasn’t my favorite of the year (it was #5 after Portishead, Elbow, The Fleet Foxes and Nick Cave), it definitely was the most memorable.  And although it has been over years since it found me, I can’t help but smile whenever my iPod plays one of the songs on shuffle.  Each note brings with it so many smiles and so many memories of those days.  To wrap this up and shoehorn in Pierce’s own words to fit my purpose:

And play a song for me
Play a song we used to sing
The one that brought you close to me
Play a song and I will sing along

Dedicated to the life and memory of Sean Beall, who I know would have loved Songs in A&E.

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