How to define kafkaesque? Certainly, the phrase “of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka” doesn’t begin to do justice to the connotation of fuckedupness the word possesses. Dictionary.com’s number 2 definition is just a bit better: “marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.” Perhaps a picture is worth, at least in this case, 20 words:
Back in my glorious undergraduate days, on a Saturday just around midnight one winter, a young woman named Margaret and I were picked up hitchhiking on Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina, after the city buses had quit running. I lived in North Columbia, a seven-mile trek through the nowhere that is everywhere, that soulless six-lane Shoneys/Circle-K/autoparts-studded commercial zone that leads into every municipality in this great nation of ours. I mention the circumstances in an attempt to mitigate somewhat the sheer anti-Darwinian stupidity of hitchhiking at night in a capital city with an attractive coed, especially after my brush with kinghell serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins some five years earlier, but that’s another, too-oft-told story.
As we were standing on the curb, thumbs thrust out, a jacked-up Oldsmobile Toronado pulled over, and, of course, we hopped on in. The driver, whose neck was as red as the background of a Confederate flag, was accompanied by a short black man with an eraser-like afro – an odd couple indeed, as if Early Gracye of Kalifornia and Sammy Davis, Jr. had teamed up to be best friends. After we piled into the back seat, they said they’d take us to my place, but they needed to pick up some weed first.
What transpired afterwards might be classified as sort of kafkaesque: an outdoor drug transaction in which our chauffeurs purchased a tiny bag of skankass cannabis for twenty 1975-dollars. No, they weren’t ready to take us home. We had to see the black man’s paintings, so we drove to his concrete block shack where we smoked stems and seeds of the alleged marijuana and the black fellow showed us “his art” – crude framed caricatures that you might find painted on the outside walls of a body shop. Essentially, we were their prisoners. Eventually, Margaret fell asleep on the couch, and the redneck pulled out a handgun and pointed in my face. Not knowing what to do, I sat stupidly and impassively. The black fellow told him to put the gun away, and the redneck eventually passed out. The black painter finally took us about a block from my house (I wasn’t about to let him know where I lived).
As creepy as that abbreviated narrative might be, it nevertheless lacks the absurdity of true kafkafication, though the black fellow’s paintings skirted awfully close.
When he was a resident of Hungary, younger son Ned experienced something like the real thing – true Kafkaquesness – as one overnight train ride from Munich to Budapest demonstrates.
Before I let Ned tell the story, I’ll preface it by sharing that it had been a particularly good week for him at work. The first grader he teaches who had threatened to kill everyone in the school wrote him a sweet little note: Hi, Ned. I’m sorry I was so evil in your class.
On that bright note, Ned took off to Nuremberg for a fun-filled four-day weekend. Take it away, Ned.
First off I’ll start by saying the Hungarian word for emergency is vészhelyzet, and the German word is Not. I think the Germans need a one-syllable word for emergency because they get upset and panicked if things don’t go exactly to regimen. I used to make fun of them for their attitude towards efficiency, but after these few months in Hungary, I appreciate it now.
The whole weekend was kind of weird. I don’t know how much I should tell you about it, but I’ll err on the side of too much.
The couple who had visited me in Budapest and I were there in Nuremberg, and the girl kept hitting on me. Her boyfriend informed me she had a crush on me. We were leaving through the masses of the crowd, and she started groping me (not unlike the guy who had robbed me in Budapest) and walked away. That was the last I saw/heard from them, which was especially bad because I was supposed to stay with them the next night.
On the bus back to Rasim’s (my Turkish friend), I sat next to a guy who had dug up a five-foot tree from some sidewalk somewhere. There was a trail of dirt from the entrance of the bus to where he was sitting.
The next night I bumped into some people I sort of knew. There was this other guy with them…very drunk and aggressive and sociopathic seeming. He went off with me to buy a drink and said “don’t worry; I’m not gay,” and my alarms went off. 5 minutes later, he asked me to blow him, and I gave him a forceful no and eventually lost him in the crowd. These situations are occurring at a higher frequency this year. Like father, like son I guess [. . . ]
When a Romanian girl came onto the train, she asked if I spoke English, which I always welcome when foreigners ask me. We made small talk for a minute and then crashed in one of those closed compartments on the train.
Suddenly, the girl started screaming. Two thugs had come into the compartment and stolen her bag, i.e., all of her money and her passport. We chased after them, calling for the authorities. We caught up with one of the thieves, but when we demanded the bag back, he merely smirked, and the conductor of the train shrugged her shoulders as the Romanian girl screamed in English, “He stole all my stuff. He stole all my stuff.”
At the next stop, the thief got off the train, but as it ended up, the girl found her bag in the restroom with nothing missing. A few minutes later, the conductor came with paperwork and became furious when she discovered that the girl had found her purse. The conductor had wasted three minutes of her valuable time filling out paperwork in vain!
The Romanian’s mood started improving gradually, as she had escaped the Not. She told me she had just been to Amsterdam and said she still thought she was high. Wearing a candy bracelet, she showed me the Space cakes she was bringing back and would occasionally pull out circus peanuts and other sweets. I guess maybe she was still stoned. She had said she was 24, but she looked and acted like she was 20. Romanians are often very petit though…
We said goodbye, and off I went to work right off the train, wading in the sea of frowns just like every morning. The frowns are etched in the older people’s faces like water carves out a canyon. I fit right in that morning. I’ve read somewhere that 6% of Hungarians say they are happy, and I always joke that number seems inflated.
I also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with a Star of David going into a trashcan, a play on this image.
I boarded a bus with a tastefully/minimalistically drawn penis and balls on the side.
Just another routine day in Kafkaland.
A nice place to visit but . . .
 As they say in writing school, choose not an approximate word, but the perfect word.
3 thoughts on “Adventures in Kafkaland”
I assume you’ve seen this? http://www.theonion.com/video/pragues-franz-kafka-international-named-worlds-mos-14321
No, Joel, I had not seen the Onion piece. It deserves multiple viewings. Thanks.
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