I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.
So here goes.
When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.
And that’s mostly what happened.
The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.
But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.
France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.
But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”
So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).
So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.
The sense of power was intoxicating.
That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”
I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.
Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.
So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.
Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.
I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.
(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.
That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.
It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”
The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.
“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”
“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”
“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”
I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.
Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.
Ciao, for now.