No. 2+
Time, Oh Time
Firefly Journal
Because the End Times Never End and Everything is Still Possible
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Friendly Scary People on Trains

excerpts from Shon Meckfessel's book Suffled How It Gush

Sunday Morning, painting by Patti Tauscher
Sunday Morning, painting by Patti Tauscher

Dan and I lay our backpacks on the bunk bed. On the other side of the train compartment sit two youths. One of them wears a black shirt emblazoned with a skull and grenades, and the words “Death Death Death.” They are staring up at us. “Rome?” I ask as I sit down on the edge of the bed. They nod. “Vacation?” The one in the shirt shakes his head, “work.” What work? I gesticulate. “Carabineri!” beating his chest and his friend's. “Aha, is there protest, manifestation, in Rome?” “No, this time no, just normal,” he says. “But before – Yes!” His eyes seem to look behind me, then return to mine. “BLACK BLOC!” he yells, proudly, punching his fist into his palm with each word. Dan and I, dressed head to toe in black, anarchist buttons on our bags, nod sternly – yes, we have heard of this Black Bloc. “Pepsi?” he offers.


When he can't find anyplace else to crash, Neno sleeps in the passenger trains that have been taken off the active tracks for the night. He tells us how everyone drinks and socializes over the fold-out tables, then retires to a sleeper compartment. When Sarah and I tell Neno that we'd love to drop by, he is surprised, but offers to be our host.

Neno and his girlfriend Iva are fighting again. Sarah and I kick back in our first-class seats and greet our new train cohorts. Everyone is well dressed and in good spirits; we toast each other by candlelight. Most of the other residents are older, and all are men. We ask one about Iva and Neno's discussion, and he shrugs: young people in love.

Two men come in and are happy to see Neno. Neno and Iva interrupt their yelling to make introductions and catch up with the men. One of them talks at length, while the other seems tired and gazes at the floor. Finally, Iva explains, "This guy speaking is the brother of that guy, who had a very bad day. His ex-wife that he loved very much was cut in half by a tram today. He's on a lot of pills so he can't feel anything." We offer him our plastic water bottle of bambus and he thankfully accepts. The brothers converse in hushed tones, while Iva and Neno resume their discussion, which is getting louder. I think to myself that such a passionate conversation would seem like a fight in California, but here I guess people just talk like that.

Iva, we find out soon, is actually calling Neno a chauvinist pig who should be ashamed of himself, and that she is sick of his shit. Neno responds by lunging at her and grabbing her by the throat, which doesn't interrupt her reprimand. The rest of us jump up to pry Neno's fingers loose as Iva, still screaming, starts to turn blue. Slowly, we manage to separate them until the speaking brother pulls Neno out into the hall. Iva sulks and doesn't want to talk about it.

Sarah and I turn to the man who has had a bad day, thankful for the help. He smiles a bit, weakly, and we pass the bambus.

"Sprechen-sie Deutch?" he asks.

"Kleine, kleine." Just a little, we answer.

"Have you ever been to Germany?" Sarah and I decipher. We both nod, gave a thumbs-up for Germany, and list off the towns we can remember visiting on our fingers.

"Da, da. Berlin, Hamburg, Heidelberg... Berlin, sehr dobro. Mnogo kunst." Berlin, very good, much art, we manage in mixed Croatian and German.

"Adolf Hitler?" he asks.

"Nein, nein, ništa Adolf Hitler," we answer almost yelling, with emphatic thumbs-down.

"Ludwig Wittgenstein," adds Sarah.

"Da, da, Wittgenstein," he answers.

"I Apfel-Struedel, zer gut," Sarah says, Apple Strudel is also good. We all nod.

"I tako isto Goethe, i Beethoven," I add.

"Da, da, zer gut. Aber Adolf je Bog." Yes, very good, but Adolf is God.

"Nije, nije! Immanuel Kant!" No he's not, no he's not. Immanuel Kant.

"Da, Kant. Aber Adolf je Bog."

Sarah and I consult each other. Obviously, it isn't the time to lambast the man who has had a bad day. But it would be patronizing to just let him be a nazi.

"In Germany, they don't like Hitler anymore," I manage. "Go there and ask."

"That's not true," he answers in German. "I lived there for 10 years."

Then, not really believing he could be a real nazi, I ask a stupid question. "Šta misliš Juden?" What do you think about Jews?

He makes a cutting motion across his throat.

"Zašto?" I ask. Why?

"Jesus Christ," he says solemnly, stretching out his arms on an imaginary crucifix.

"We've got to explain to him that the Romans killed Jesus, not the Jews," says Sarah. "How do you say 'Romans' in Croatian?

If the plural of "Amerikan" is "Amerikani," I figure the plural of Roman is "Romani." "Znate-li Romani?" I ask him. You know the Romans?

"Da, Romani, poznam." Of course I know Romani, he nods.

"The Romani killed Jesus, it wasn't the Jews!" I yell victoriously.

"Nisu, nisu?!" No they didn't, replies our nazi friend, confused.

"Da, da," I insist, the Romani, not the Jews. "Poznate-li Pontius Pilate?” You know Pontius Pilate?

"Da, poznam."

"Pontius Pilate je bio... Romani!" Pontius Pilate was Romani, I yell like a prophet.

"Nije!" No he wasn't, protests the incredulous nazi.

Yes, Pontius Pilate was Romani. I rest my case. We pass the bambus in silence until Neno, now calmed, returns.

As we drunkly staggered out of the train, Iva asks me why I tried to convince the man who'd had a bad day that Pontius Pilate was Romani. I don't think the Gypsies had arrived in Europe yet, she says.


The nazi skinheads don't seem to mind that I am tape recording the conversation. They teach Sarah and me another soccer chant, similar to the others - “Your mother can sit on my very extremely huge penis.” We have another round of drinks. One of them explains into the recorder that if a Serb showed up at his doorstep, he would feed the Serb everything from his fridge, that he would give him beer and introduce him to his family, that he would even make him sleep in his bed as he slept on the floor. “But if you try to take my city away from me,” he stares, and I hope his drunk eyes can remember that I'm not trying to take his city away from him. I don't remind him that this would not explain why he'd been fighting with Croatian paramilitaries in Bosnia.

The other nazi explains that when he was 14, his best friend was killed. What would you do? he asks. The paramilitary didn't want someone so young to have a gun, he claims, so he got to clean up, with the body bags and everything. He stops talking, then points to shut off the tape recorder. I wish I'd changed the subject a few minutes ago. If only my glass wasn't full, it would be a good time to order another round. Then the nazi skinhead tells me to turn my tape recorder back on.

“Vietnam. Slavery. Native Americans... You don't talk to me about war. You don't talk to me about genocide.”


Police walk into our train compartment and sit down on either side of me. Emma, Frank and I raise our eyebrows to each other. "Shut the door so no one can hear," says one cop to the other. They look at me for a minute and I smile weakly. "So, how do you like Yugoslavia?" one asks. When he learns I am from Sacramento, he gives me a high-five for Vlade Divac, Serbia's greatest star. The Sacramento Kings star basketball player (who left Belgrade 30 years ago) is so popular in Serbia that Deca Losa Musikaca (Bad Musicians' Children), a pop-punk band, has a top-ten song in his honor. Gypsy brass bands cover the song, and everyone around gives a thumb up for Divac. The cop tells me how he watches every Kings game on the city square, even the ones that play live here at 3am. He almost cries when I tell him I've never seen a game in person. Hastily, I repeat everything I've heard people say about the Kings, and he listens with childlike contentment.

He pulls out a little pile of photographs from his bag. “My family is from near Sarajevo,” he says in Serbian, “so I also volunteered to fight in Bosnia. But most of these are from Kosovo.” In one he is posing in a ditch with a machine gun; in the next he caresses a mortar. "Why does America bomb Muslim terrorists in Afghanistan but help them in Kosovo?" I cautiously tell him that America, like all states, just wants power for itself, and doesn't really care about this or that religion, or if anybody is right or wrong, or anything. He pats my shoulder approvingly and nods. He shows me a picture, smiling in his soldier's tent with a friend. "Znash," he says, "rat nije strashan. To je normalno." You know, war isn't terrible. It's normal. Once you get used to it, he continues, it's just like any other way of life. You just plug your ears, and act like a professional. People can get used to anything.

My Serbian sticks in my throat as I try to change the subject. His partner stares at me, bored. Do you know how to swear in Serbian? the first one asks. I assure him I know the common expressions – Up your mother's cunt, Fuck your life, Fuck your God, Fuck your mouse, I hope your mother gets fucked by a dog. He laughs at my blank delivery, then teaches me how to say a series more. I try to forget them as soon as he tells me. Gun is gun. He whispers when he tells me the different ways to say, "Girlfriend," so as not to offend Emma, though she hasn't understood a word of the whole conversation. She gets the three of us to pose, and his quiet partner jokingly covers up his badge and says, "Don't take us to the Hague!" They shake our hands warmly and wish us a good stay.