Thursday, May 17, 2007

The mean streets of Zurich

Last night I went out dancing with two guys from lab. Today is Ascension day, which is a major holiday in Zurich. In honor of the resurrected man-god flying up to heaven, everything is closed, so the blasphemous goth club was packed last night with people who didn't have to wake up at the crack of dawn for once (which is almost as ironic as the store-front Pentecostal church which regularly had services on Friday evenings directly across the street from where the black-leather-clad masses were waiting at the velvet rope to get into Das Bunker in LA).

Dancing was less enjoyable than usual, since there was little room for mad gyrations and even less air to fill my empty lungs, but I did see one of the girls who went on the ZNZ retreat last weekend. I don't remember if she presented a poster or a talk, so I can't look up her name, but she was the only competent dancer at the horrible restaurant where we were serenaded by a seventy-year-old paraplegic singing American hits from the 50's accompanied by his trusty auto-programmed Casio. Think Wesley Willis without the schizophrenic street cred or camp-cool lyrics (I really did whoop Batman's ass).

Anyway, my friends were goth club neophytes, and their will to convulse rhythmically to harsh electronic beats waned after two hours, so we called it a night at around 2am. The walk back to my apartment, where one of my friends left his bike, passes through a few relatively narrow and poorly lit alleyways. In Hell's Kitchen or Compton, these are the sorts of places where a nice Jewish boy from the suburbs would not dare to tread even in broad daylight, but Zurich's notion of gritty generally doesn't go beyond titty bars where both the glassware and the lavatories are sanitary. On this particular evening, while walking back through these alleys, we encountered a young black man and woman; an unusual enough occurrence in Zurich. As we walked past, the girl asked us if we had any cigarettes. I certainly didn't understand her German, so my friend answered that we didn't have any, and we continued without breaking our stride. Before we could go more than a few additional steps, the boy requested cigarettes in a considerably more aggressive manner. I understood him no better than the girl, so I continued on without response, and my friend, having nothing more to say, did the same. As we walked past, I saw him raise his arm out of the corner of my eye, and our departure was saluted with the crack of a handgun fired into the air.

My friend was convinced that it was some sort of fake gun, perhaps an air pistol, but I can't imagine why someone would carry such a useless show-piece on the street at night. Then again, I'm not exactly sure what he hoped to accomplish by firing a gun of any sort after we declined to give him a cigarette. It isn't as if, hearing the gunshot, I was about to turn around and say "Oh, when you put it that way, I think I just may have a pack of cigarettes in my pocket." And I don't think being denied a cigarette by a passing stranger is really reasonable cause to flip out. People are strange.

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