Long time ago I went to World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb. A lot of things had happened at that festival (for example, nearby war, proximity to sex and street renovating jack-hammering) but I’ll tell you about only one of them.
After the awards ceremony there was a party at a club. When I arrived it was in full swing and I had to have a drink (my film didn’t get an award and am a sour/drunk looser).
– Beer will be free, – the festival director had said, so I told bartender:
– One beer.
The bartender took my order, turned around and filled a tall glass with the ambery wonder-juice that formed a nice foamy head on top.
He put the salivating glass in front of me and said:
– Eight dinar.
– But the beer is free! – I tried to reason.
– Eight dinar, – the bartender repeated without a blink. He looked stern, tall and muscular (everybody in Zagreb is tall but not everybody is muscular). He had an air of authority, like a teacher who would hit you with a ruler if you didn’t know the right answer to 2+2-4.
Normally, I wouldn’t have had one dinar to cover my ass, but luckily I had sold one of the “The Book Of Tigers”, a rare 100 book edition that I had written and illustrated. Album, a small publishing company in Moscow, had published it for reasons not well defined (my Russian Ex was the head of that company). I had sold the book for 1000 dinar, one 1000 dinar banknote in my pocket, equivalent to maybe $30 USD that back in Latvia would last me a couple of months.
But now I had given the wrong impression to the bartender that I was not willing to pay for the beer I had ordered. I wanted to correct my wrong answer with the correct move, even if that took away a couple of good meals back in Latvia. Pride killed the cat, not curiosity.
– Here, – I said and pulled the banknote out of my purse.
The bartender silently took the 1000 dinar note and went to the cash register. He returned with the change and pushed it into my nervous hand.
It seemed a little too little, the change for the 1000 dinar, so I examined it. It was a change for 100 dinar.
– Wait, – I said, feeling my face flush with heat and color. My heart began to race.
– Next! – the bartender called out looking over me. There was a big thirsty crowd behind me, waiting their turn for the bartender’s faulty attention.
– But I gave you 1000 dinar, – I mumbled.
– It was hundred, – he cut me off.
– Thousand, – I said. All of sudden I was not so sure what I had given to him. He seemed so certain.
Me heart, when it races, produces a lot of sweat but it is the kind of sweat that comes out of my eyes.
My lips trembled, my cheeks twitched. I was about to burst into tears.
– Hundred, – the bartender said concluding the conversation.
I couldn’t say anything anymore. My throat was tight and burning. Humiliation is never sweet and never bitter – it burns. It had rendered me mute.
“Maybe I can live without 1000 dinar”, I thought. “I didn’t have them 5 hours before”.
I turned around and faced the party. Everybody was having a great time, dancing, drinking, laughing.
The misery I felt, the pain of loss and humiliation, separated me from the joyful humankind as if I was behind a bulletproof glass.
I walked out into the dark Zagreb street and went to the hotel.
In my room I collapsed into the bed, crying my eyes out. Only the death could stop the pain I felt. The pain was poking me everywhere – in the liver, brain, heart, throat, eyes, nose. No escape.
– God, please make me die! – I cried. Then my thoughts turned to my family who was waiting for me at home to bring them some good news.
– What will I tell my family? – I lamented. – We could have used the 1000 dinar so well!
But my family is a sucker for a good story, so in my head I started to compose the story I was going to tell them about the bartender robbing me, to compensate for the lost money. A good story is nothing without a little embellishment, so I made the bartender taller, his head closely shaved and with a tattoo on his neck. Like, I wasn’t going to argue with a person who might belong to Croatian Mafia.
More I embellished, more the pain subsided. Soon, there was a tiny little flicker of suffering, and a story bigger than life.
By telling the events and organizing them into a story I had removed myself from the pain I felt.
I stopped crying.
– I think, I can live now, – I thought. – Where is that party? I think I can try to dance.
Presently, there was a knock on the door and Knight On White Horse (yes, that man who all of you girls dream about) walked in, bringing me the 1000 dinars I thought I had lost.
(Note, animators also work like Mafia – one of the animators at the party saw the bartender abuse me, told about it to another animator who was taller with stronger build and more handsome than the Croatian Mafia bartender and this handsomer animator demanded the justice from the bartender who without any argument or a blink of an eye returned 100 dinar on the spot. In some places intimidating physical masculinity still decides as a lot of cases)
That was the first time I realized that I need stories to detach from the pain of reality.
Now, you might say that’s a good thing. But everything (including alcohol and sex) is a good thing till it interferes with your normal life.
At the moment I have reached the stage 2 of that “telling the story” compulsion: I cannot bear the reality unless I tell a story while it is happening.
Some things take a very long time to happen. Like, making an animated feature film. So, I am sitting at my desk every day, impatiently telling myself the story of “My suffering while making the film” but the suffering never ends. The next day is the same thing, and day after that and day after that.
I prefer to tell that I worked hard rather than work hard.