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shopping for history
went for history, i got andre, shopping, and a smelly german dude...
by todd w bush

Guys have you ever been leaning on a clothes rack, trying not to look too dorky, but at same time you’re struggling to stay awake, waiting on your friend or significant other to finish whatever shopping they’re doing, then realized that two racks over another hapless soul is doing the exact same thing? Ever shared that knowing smile? The small shake of the head, the miniscule laugh of a terribly boring, but shared experience?

Now imagine the other guy tries to strike up a conversation to pass the time, only he speaks German and you speak English. And he hasn’t brushed his teeth since Clinton was in office. And the phrase “Zest fully clean” means about as much to him as “ion-producing particle accelerator” means to Joey Tribbianni. And as the cherry on top of this dung-flavored sundae, a three-foot personal space bubble doesn’t exist to him. Welcome to world, circa Friday afternoon.

I had promised a friend of mine (we’ll call her Muffin) who was visiting a sight-seeing trip to Heidelberg, Germany, so since I was lucky enough to have Friday off we took the world renowned Autobahn 6 north and east and found ourselves downtown in the home of Europe’s oldest university, the romantic Heidelberg bridge over the Neckar River, and of course, one of the coolest castles in Germany.

Another friend of mine (that for the purposes of this column will be called Mom) lives by the Army post there and had offered to be a sort of tour guide for the trip. When we arrived at her place, she broke the news that her daughter would be joining us and that our “peaceful walk through the Haptstrasse and historical area of the city Mark Twain described as his favorite in all the world” would now be entitled “take a five second peek at the castle, rub the stone monkey on the bridge’s balls, then three and half hours of shopping hell.” Insert your laugh here.

We all pile into Mom’s car to start the trek downtown when she loudly proclaims, “So, I know I’m going to get lost about a dozen times on the way down here and yeah I just had an accident on the road we’re on now and maybe I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in the same day on the next road, but everything’s cool. We’re gonna have a great time!” Tell you what, Mom, at the next stop light I’ll get out and put my mouth over the exhaust pipe, you rev the engine really good and then I can spare you the trouble. I’ll just end my life quick. Somehow we make it downtown ok and pull into the fifth open parking spot we pass. After pointing out the first three and not being heard over the talk about stores that absolutely, positively cannot be missed, I gave up on handing out advice.

We leave parking garage number 8, then walk down the main shopping street on our way to the ever popular “here’s the bridge, here’s the castle, aren’t you glad you saw it, ok its bargain time baby!!” tour. It’s about a ten minute walk down to the bridge, long considered one of the most romantic and beautiful on the entire European continent. However, the long storied history of the expanse over the Neckar River isn’t what’s on the minds of my three female companions. No, they are fixated on a “tradition” that they want to photo-document me doing. Apparently, in a page right out of the same book containing such gems like “you have to hold your breath when you go over a bridge” and “you have to kiss the pig at the fair” comes this supposed good luck tasker: walk over to the famous statue of a monkey that guards the entrance to the bridge, rub his testicles, then the ring on his foot, then the mirror he’s holding and you’ll get good fortune. Somehow all the chatter from my friends Muffin, Mom, and Daughter revolves around photo documentation of just me doing it. Naturally, I refuse to even get close to this monkey, much less his scrotum, especially after we saw him from behind and his iron rectum made it look like he’d spent a decade in prison along side Edward Norton in American History X.

Having thus avoided the embarrassment and certain unemployment caused by pictures of me checking a primate statue for a hernia, we made our way onto the bridge to see the beautiful castle. It’s a huge structure, built centuries ago, overlooking the river. Still to this day, it’s an imposing presence. Standing on the classical bridge, the ancient river running beneath me, imagining knights, kings, and other medieval figures patrolling the castle’s walls I heard Mom give us her “neat factoid” of the day: “You know, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf live about a half mile down the river!” I held my comment about me ending up on the “Us Weekly” tour in check.

Apparently our historical part of the trip was over because after lunch at an Italian place we headed back to the main shopping street. (I know, I know, Italian food in Germany, but since Muffin doesn’t like pork, had we gone local, mass chaos would have ensued. Don’t believe me? Try not feeding a girl for day and see if they don’t go from 0 to bitch in 1.2 seconds.) As we hit the beginning of the street and saw that it was over two miles of shopper’s nirvana, I could imagine Mom, Daughter, and Muffin hearing the opening strains of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I, on the other hand, was hearing Don Meredith singing “Turn out the lights/the party’s over…”

We then proceeded to go to 18 different stores that sold the same style of Britney-inspired almost-not-there shirts and handkerchief-sized skirts. Apparently only one of the 18 sold the “Sexy or what?” one-sleeved, midriff-showing shirt in black. Never mind the fact that it was the eighth store that had that one in a black, we still had to hit the next ten just to be sure that they didn’t have it too. When that safari was over, it was time to look for belly-button rings. Seven accessory stores later, all of whom had entire walls (not shelves, mind you, walls) devoted to the things, we still couldn’t find one Daughter liked. By the time we hit accessory story number five, Muffin was outside with me, both of us chain smoking cigs and arguing over me checking out a girl’s ass. Or the mere chance that I might be checking out a girl’s ass. Or creation versus evolution. Or why every single Body Shop or Bath and Body Works store has that same spongy hardwood flooring (why is that anyway?). I forget because my mouth was on autopilot and the captain had turned off the “Don’t Offend People” light.

The search for a good belly button ring having been as productive as the search for the Loch Ness monster, we went into the worst part of the shopping experience: random walks into stores with no other purpose than to just “see if they might have something I want.” It was during this phase of the trip that I did contribute to the German economy by seeing two decent shirts on sale and picking out some sunglasses. Yes, it did take me fifteen minutes to find said sunglasses, but because I have a lop-sided head that’s damn near impossible to make hair look decent on, you can imagine how hard it would be to find accoutrements that assist in my dating prospects. It was also during this phase of the trip that I had my encounter with the aromatically-challenged German gentlemen. I was leaning on some 1995-era button downs, trying to decide if the girl in the picture on the wall was Heidi Klum or one of Heidi’s lesser known relatives when he caught my eye and in a millisecond we’d decided we were both waiting on members of the opposite sex that had drug us through the bowels of hell all afternoon.

When a guy sees another guy in that predicament, it’s normally par for the course to just nod, smile and acknowledge them. Just like the rules for guy etiquette in the bathroom, talking isn’t necessary, and in fact, is strongly discouraged. Apparently this guy missed a meeting or something, because over he walks and into my personal space he comes. “Guten tag! Ssjkwekhr auiyjhf sjhwe cgeyug?,” he said, which since I don’t speak German, I interpreted to mean “Good day! Doesn’t it suck that we have to be here?” I politely smiled, backed up to give myself my precious three feet, and said in my absolute worst German as to not confuse him, “Do you speak English?” Taking another two steps in my direction in what I thought was surely an effort to make me completely nauseous, he continued, undaunted: “Ah! American wekljreh ahfdaufh agfdusgjh wehjewi uchouwehd ahduka yabopyut wiyekhdh jaddjhadsh love da Army!” I was terrified that he might kiss me if I answered, so I retreated to the nearest bathroom to calm down and throw up.

Muffin emerged from a forest of skirts a few minutes later and we once again escaped to start feverishly smoking cigarettes. Just then, the unthinkable happened. Hideous Smelling German Man bounded around a corner, dragging an equally hideous looking, though genuinely perplexed looking German woman with him. It appeared that he thought an introduction to me would be the best way to payback his wife for bringing him shopping. Thankfully, Mom and Daughter came out of the front door and off we were to finally take the trip home. I made some crack about the two of them taking only two minutes this time. Muffin then made my horrific day complete by giving the entire group a running joke for the rest of the day: “Wait, Todd. Aren’t you used to taking only two minutes to do stuff?”


Todd's background includes military service, a stint at a movie theater, and getting turned down for a date by Sandra Bullock. All things that make him totally unqualified to be a writer. However, now that he's getting married in November, that might just do it.

more about todd w bush


anakin, toby, and me
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topic: humor
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by todd w bush
topic: humor
published: 10.9.04


lucy lediaev
7.11.04 @ 6:52p

This story gave me a good laugh and reminded me of my one and only walking tour of Heidelberg, which featured stops at approximately ten "konditerei" in the course of an afternoon. The German friend, who had kindly offered to show me the historic city of Heidelberg, instead conducted a block-by-block tasting tour of all of her favorite local pastry shops. I don't think we spent more than five minutes at Heidelberg Castle.

The day ended with supper at her parents' home where her father, a sausage and cheese broker, plied us with a broad (and I mean that literally) assortment of breads, sausages, cheeses, and German beer from his warehouse. Already stuffed from the tour of Heidelberg. On repeatedly hearing "essen Sie, essen Sie," I almost collapsed from clogged arteries and an overfilled stomach.



robert melos
7.14.04 @ 1:24a

Oh God! This is funny. I love it. This is filled with gem phrases that I'll remember, and probably occasionally borrow, for the rest of my life. This is genius.

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